Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Resident

On Friday I finished my residency. I am now considered competent to practice medicine without supervision. It was rather anti-climatic. I filled out the last of my paperwork, gathered the last of my things, and said goodbye to the few people who were in the office and left. It is strange to realize that this ends nearly a quarter century of continual education, with almost a dozen of those years focused on the knowledge required to be a medical doctor. It is one of the longest and most rigorous educations in our society.

I cannot help but pause at this moment I have anticipated for so long and wonder what exactly becoming a doctor means. I have practiced medicine in residency enough to realize that being a physician isn't going to look like my childhood fantasies. I won't be able to save the world and despite how much I try my patients will have many problems that I won't be able to help. I also know that I haven't invested so much of my life and my energy into a profession just to make myself a dispenser of pills and health advice who lives in comfortable affluence.

You would think by now I should know what it means to be a doctor (especially with all the time I have spent on discussing doctoring on this blog). I try to avoid mentioning to casual acquaintances that I am a physician, because people often treat you so differently; almost as if you have some secret knowledge or honor inaccessible to others. Being a physician now and having spent much of my recent life around them I find the title of doctor no particular indicator of anything impressive in a person. It seems that there is a duty to patients (and perhaps to society in general), but what that duty implies about the type of human being I should be still eludes me. I actually feel much less like a doctor now than I did during residency, since I left all of my patients in Tennessee.

After all the long days and sleepless nights I have spent becoming a doctor, I would actually prefer to focus on all the other roles in my life that have often been neglected: husband, brother, friend, son, Christian, writer, etc. Of course, the role of physician is the one that I must use to pay the bills so I can't take too long a break from doctoring. I’ll have to learn who I should be as a physician on the job. My education is far from over.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Isolation and Community

Two weekends ago I exchanged heavy-heart for a heavy pack. My wife, several dear friends, and I disappeared into Jefferson National Forest for 3 days and 2 nights. What a joy it is to walk under trees and sky with those I love! We carried each other's burdens (sometimes quite literally when one of us became injured.) With my over-active imagination I envisioned us as a band of nomads as we sat huddled around our fire on Mt Rodgers. And now I am back to the weary work of human misery, medical bureaucracy, and heavy responsibility.

There is nothing magical about the wilderness except that it is removed from the rest of society. It is being both isolated and together with others that forces reflection. I realize that what occupies most of my time and energy to be of small worth in comparison to those I love. My community of friends and family is by far the greatest blessing I have known in my life. My friends are not perfect (and certainly they can say the same of me) but what they are is true. They have walked with me for years and I know that we will continue to stand beside each other all our lives. They love me even when I am foolish. They correct me even when I am stubborn. They listen to me even when I talk nonsense. They pray for me. They care for my wife and family. They travel to see me. They open their homes to me. They make sacrifices for me. And in my better moments I do the same for them. Who cannot feel blessed to have such friends?

Unfortunately in today's world a community of such friends or even having one such friend is rare. I imagine that many ills of the modern world are related to the death of such community. From my own experiences with isolation I can say that I fear the man I might have become without them.