You let your kids go into medicine???
Colleagues raise their eyebrows and wag their heads at me, aghast.
Well, wait a minute.
I urge my kids to follow their hearts.
Of course, values vary. Some value money, others prefer prestige. There are some things on which we all can agree. Years ago, writing that medical school admission essay, our life goals overlapped. All of those essays talked about making a difference and helping others.
Now more than thirty years after graduating from medical school, I can truthfully say, yes. I would do it again. Why?
I could point the years I practiced primary care. I loved my family practice, truly seeing patients from cradle to grave. I left this after twenty years to pursue informatics. Almost a decade after I left, the same physician liaison who had hired me called out of the blue and asked if I would come back. “Your patients will remember you and come back to you,” he said. I called to chat with him and reminisce. I was flattered. Yes, my love of patient care and the heartfelt connection with people is pride-worthy. But if I had to point to just one accomplishment in my career, that wouldn’t be it.
I could point to teaching. It is a joy to walk into the resident workroom and have someone say, “we love it when you are here.” While I hope that the cause is my ability to listen and guide them to being better physicians, I suspect that it is my knowledge of little computer tricks (I often am quoted: “Clicks are evil. Scrolling is vile”). I cajole myself into believing that it isn’t just the tech stuff, but a true connection and recognition of my scholarly acumen. As much as I adore teaching, even delude myself that I am an awesome academician, it is not my greatest achievement.
Can I rest on my laurels of effectiveness in the field of clinical informatics? Certainly, there are colleagues out there less successful, less effective, than I have been. They strut about with self-satisfaction. Joining the pioneer class of board-certification is worthy of holding my head high. Yet that is not why I would do it all again.
What I will point to is my children. Before you roll your eyes and think that I am a cliché, let me explain. Like any parent, I love my children with a fierce passion that any parent understands. Naturally, I am happy that they have grown to become successful, contributing members of society. I would give everything I have done and everything I own back to the universe to protect my kids. Yet I “let” them go to medical school.
Their decision to go to medical school reflects my satisfaction with my career. To decide to study like a maniac during college and then disappear into an abyss for the next decade of medical education is a tough call for anyone. To do so despite being raised by a crazy-busy working mother shows that my children recognized the love and dedication that a career in medicine engenders.
My girls could have focused on the chaos of their formative years. They could whine about the sporting events and concerts that I missed. There were the nights, as I drove them back from gymnastics or dance, that a little voice would pipe up from the back seat and ask, “What’s for dinner?” Having not been home since zero-dark hundred, I would respond “Captain Crunch.” And then I would hear, “Again??”
My daughters know too well that their lives will not be easy or restful. They have studied, worked, and struggled to be the successes they are. They have continued on this path despite the tsunami of blogs, articles, tweets, and seminars around physician burnout. They recognize the rewards of a life of constant learning and service to others.
Unlike me, they were not just kids who followed their parents around the hospital as a child, never to consider anything but a career in medicine, and robotically marched down the path.
My oldest graduated from college, was accepted to medical school, and paused. She noted that medical school did not make financial sense, and she opted not to matriculate. Instead she pursued the path of consulting in data analytics. She was (is) successful and working for a well-known prestigious company. Despite an enviable life replete with friends, boating, and travel, she laments that she is “sick of corporate greed”. She took the MCAT (again) and is applying to medical school this cycle.
We have had many conversations about choices. My refrain, the first time she applied and now, has been: “If you want to be a doctor, go to medical school. If you aren’t sure, don’t go.” More than the average Joe, she understands the downsides of this path. Both her sisters have gone to medical school; she has seen her siblings deny themselves social lives and pleasures that most people enjoy in their twenties. The struggle of taking boards and the fierce competition for residencies are all too familiar.
Is it a wonder that colleagues ask me, with a sneer, “You let your kids go into medicine?”
Hmmm… so many things wrong with that question.
By the time they apply to medical school, they are adults. As much as I enjoy my daughters’ confidence, their decisions are all their own. There is no need to grant permission. When my oldest wavered, I encouraged her to follow her heart, whether it be medicine or belly dancing. When another daughter considers quitting, I assure her that I will support that decision as well.
Yet, they continue.
Not only am I proud of them as people, I point to them as my greatest professional achievement. If these amazing humans, who were there in the privacy of my home to hear me moan on the tough days, can envision themselves doing the same, then my very being is satisfied. What can be more satisfying than to look back and say, “I’ve done something well enough that my children want to do that too.”
Perhaps the key to burnout is intrinsic in this boastful diatribe. Love what you do, deep in your heart, and let others see that passion.
Would you let your kids go to medical school? Would you do it all over again?
Lisa Masson, MD, is a board-certified primary care physician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Her passion for primary care motivated her to take on an active role in clinical informatics. She is a 2018–19 Doximity Author and a proud mother of three daughters.