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Medicine is boring. I gaze through the wire mesh window into the car park with the mis-spelt graffiti painted in white emulsion. Programmes like ER, House, Peak Practice, and Dr Kildare are twaddle. Medicine is humdrum: the same people, the same complaints, the same practised spiels—in my brain mainly there is just an annoying buzzing sound. It's a similar existence for consultants, in their carpet tiled concrete monoliths, but at least they have the respite of an occasional game of table tennis in the mess. The only glamour in medicine is the faded copies of Hello magazine in our waiting rooms. Apparently many doctors would not recommend a medical career. Would I recommend it to my daughter?
The realisation hits us hard—once we have outgrown the stupidity of youth—that we will never cure cancer, that our “intelligence” is merely a product of working like a dog, and that all those people who seem to bumble through life earn more money. We have other frustrations too: working shifts, dysfunctional colleagues, insensitive managers, and the constant political interfering and unworkable, grandiose, and simplistic commitments that come with every looming election. And we are the meat in the sandwich between the slices of blame and compensation, just waiting to be eaten.
But I am glad that as an idealistic and drippy 12 year old I was driven to become a doctor. Indeed, being a doctor is a privilege. Now clearly I might be lying, insane, or just plain stupid, and possibly all three, but with medicine it is the people that make the job—the colleagues, the nurses, the reception staff, the cleaners, and the porters—all in it together and committed to the patients.
Despite everything medicine remains a vocation, not just a career. It is about upholding medical traditions, seizing responsibility, and maintaining absolute confidentiality and, at the centre of it all, trust. Unfortunately, a medical career is often an automatic afterthought on receipt of three A grades at A level: “You could do medicine.” But becoming a doctor is a very personal commitment, entailing an emotional response, and is not something that can be rationalised. And it is the mismatch between youthful expectations and the reality of medicine that is the root of much professional unhappiness.
But despite the wire mesh on my windows, the nine clinical sessions a week, and a 40 year tour of duty, I am grateful. This is what I signed up for. In time we learn to ignore the political initiatives, put the merest of effort into stumbling through the meaningless official hoops, dump unread all the circulars, and smile while pretending to listen. I will never recommend medicine as a “career” to my daughter, nor to anyone else for that matter—it is nothing to do with me; it's their decision.