Father's Day: Passing the Physician Torch To My Daughter

My daughter is halfway through her EM/IM/Crit Care residency in Baltimore. She is my third child and the middle daughter of three amazing daughters. My oldest daughter is raising four beautiful children along with her husband, and my youngest daughter is nearly finished with her Masters degree in social Work. My son is a successful, serial entrepreneur. My kids amaze me all the time. I wasn’t sure, after watching me, that any of my children would pursue medicine as their career. Nevertheless...

She called my wife and me the other day to tell us a story of one of her critically ill patients who came back to thank her for saving her life through a devastating illness. I was tearful and joyful and so proud of her and told her so. I have shared some of my patient stories with my children over the years, and, not uncommonly, they say “Dad, you told us that story 10 times before!” I’m an old-timey general surgeon, so there are a lot of stories. My kids have taken to “numbering” my stories, too. They’ll say, “Oh yeah. That’s number five, Dad!” I told her to take that woman out for coffee and listen to her. There is nothing better than a patient’s gratitude to dispel the sometimes overwhelming stresses of our profession.

As Father’s Day approaches, I have been pondering these things. My physician daughter is so smart and strong and determined and persistent. I watch her from the “grandstands” these days and wonder how she walks the terribly difficult path she has chosen. I’m always happy to have an in-depth clinical discussion at her insistence. She has taken her rightful place in consulting for her siblings and her mom as the real family doctor. I used to play that role, but nobody wants a surgeon’s opinion about a cold. I usually think it’s a ruptured brain aneurysm or some other terrible diagnosis because I always think of the absolute worst possibility first. (Surgeons have a nasty habit of thinking that way.) She is much more broadly trained in most things medical and seems to always make the right diagnosis and prescribe the appropriate interventions, even when I might disagree. I’m more than ready to relinquish my family doctor roll to her. In fact, she often says her desire to pursue medicine as a career came from observing me dispensing medical care to our family, and that’s what she wants to do. Who knew!

There seems to be a cry in the lay literature for more doctors. Wait times are too long; doctors are overwhelmed and distracted and burned out. As I observe my daughter endure the slings and arrows of modern medical school and residency training, I am in awe of her perseverance and stamina. I don’t think we can just manufacture more doctors. There is an “X” factor that seems to propel these young people that is not ubiquitous. They have to have the “fire in the bosom” the Mormons talk about. They must have a ferocious determination and the uncommon trait of greatly delayed gratification. My daughter seems to have those things in abundance.

People often ask me if any of my children have chosen medicine. Sometimes I think that question is just to satisfy their notion that doctors’ kids probably don’t want to be doctors because of what they’ve seen a parent endure as a physician, or maybe they felt that their physician parent wasn’t all that available during their growing up years. My daughter chose medicine and I’m very proud of her for that.

My daughter has taught me by her example over her 31 years. She taught me about how her eating disorder as a young teenager was actually embedded in a whole family dysfunction. As she got help, we all began to get help and that help changed us so much for the better. She taught me how to completely waste a perfectly good hour watching television on the couch with her when she got fed up with constant studying as a pre-med student. I really never had “wasted” time before and certainly never on television watching — I’m a surgeon for God’s sake. She and I had a secret code word for watching our show: CWOT. It stands for “Colossal Waste Of Time.” I now think she really wanted to show me how to relax and just have some fun while just doing nothing. That was never in my bag of tricks.

My physician daughter, along with my wife and two other daughters, have taught me another “trick” truly from my "blind side." I’m a male, and a white male at that. I’m from the most privileged group the world has ever known! My daughter tells me about rounding on the wards of hospitals and the patients’ queries about when the "doctor" will be in. She recalls often being called a "nurse." My other two daughters and my wife gently (mostly) help me understand my insensitivity and general naïveté about all things feminine. These are hard lessons for me to learn but bring emotional sobriety to our relationships. I’m grateful to them for their willingness to help me in these things.

Father’s Day is upon us and I’m reminded mostly of things to be grateful for and there are so many of those in my life. My wife of 37 years, my four wonderful children and their spouses and seven grandchildren (so far). My physician daughter reminds me of the many things she has taught me and the pleasure I now have of sharing the joys of caring for our family’s medical needs with her. The feeling of gratitude kind of snuck up on me, unannounced and quietly. She makes me glad today to be a doctor, and I have great hope for the future of medicine through her. To borrow from Mark Twain, rumors of modern medicine’s death are greatly exaggerated! My daughter’s indomitable spirit shines through the Senator’s grandiloquence: “Nevertheless...she persisted!”

Happy Father's Day.

Image by EstherQueen999 / Shutterstock

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