Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Allure of Wealth in Medicine


I wrote this when I was in Medical School. It is amazing how easily idealism can become greed in the world of medicine. I need to think on it more often as I approach the point when I will finish residency and apply for jobs:


In medical school you work for free. In fact, you pay to work 16 hours a day and go into debt doing so. It conditions us for greed. When I arrived in medical school I thought it a bit vulgar that doctors are so highly paid for the work in human suffering. Now I am ready for the big paychecks. I am tired and the dream of wealthy leisure appeals to me. During the late nights on call I find myself dreaming of a large house deep in the woods far from the rest of the world. I long for the room full of books with the seat by the great fireplace where I can read my books and drink my coffee, safe and secure in the comforts of riches. It is comfortable, safe, unconcerned, and it is a far cry from the ideal I learned in Haiti from the Brothers and Sisters of Charity. Greed creeps in under cover of comfort that I begin to feel that I deserve. Medicine makes one tired. It teaches you that no matter how hard you work suffering always continues.

Temptation whispers in your ear, "Why not look out for your own comfort? You have done enough for your poor suffering brothers and sisters. You have done more than your share. You deserve this. How can you be what they need without taking care of yourself? You are called to share the sufferings of Christ and consider yourself the least among our brethren, but your responsibility of suffering has been paid of in these years of grueling training and long hours. When off-duty you must be pampered, safe, and free from concern for your fellow men. You need to be rich."

And so the physician who should be servant of all suddenly becomes a person of wealth and privilege. I should fear this temptation much more than I do. This new and wealthy "Dr Whittemore" is here to rob you of who you were meant to be. Do not trust his kind and happy face. He means to suck you dry and leave you greedy yet unsatisfied.

-10/29/03

3 comments:

Margaret said...

Do you still feel this, or have you reconciled this conflict as your residency progresses? Surely your idealistic goals do not preclude a simple but comfortable life? You have a real understanding that life's "luxuries" are not actually material, and you can enjoy them without compromising your ideals.

JD said...

I'm not exactly sure this is something that is “reconciled” Even when I wrote this years ago, I knew this temptation to be foolish and worthless. I think in each life there is a default path which is the easy way to live and meet society's expectations without much thought to your own personal development or the needs of others. Whether a poor person living a squalid existence on welfare or a rich person living a papered life of self-indulgence behind a gated fence, either could be the default position of moral laziness depending on where you are in life and your temperament. Keeping focused on any sort conviction of personal moral obligation over time is quite difficult. Loose track or become fatigued and you end up falling into the complacency of your default life.

This imaginary view of myself as safe and serene is my admission of my own temptation to default on my personal goals. Do I know it is wrong and less than I am called too? Absolutely. Is it still a danger of which I must be wary? Now more than ever, as I am both tired and at the stage when decisions I make will put me on one side or the other.

Perhaps I'm being a bit over-dramatic about this danger, but I would prefer in discussing personal moral dangers to be alarmist, rather than complacent only to wake up ten years from now and find myself the exact opposite of who I had hoped to be.

Aly said...

"Whether a poor person living a squalid existence on welfare or a rich person living a papered life of self-indulgence behind a gated fence, either could be the default position of moral laziness depending on where you are in life and your temperament. Keeping focused on any sort conviction of personal moral obligation over time is quite difficult. Loose track or become fatigued and you end up falling into the complacency of your default life."

Jonathan, this is a brialliant statement of honesty to yourself. We should all be so honest. It perfectly describes humans ability to be unproductive and lazy - both sides being negative to society, whether on welfare or self indulgent. Thank you for your honest thoughts. I commend you and hope you never lose sight of who it was you meant to be.