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
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.