This reader has several questions about medical school, medicine, and a life taking care of people.
Thank you AS for asking the questions and giving me the opportunity to provide some of the answers.
I know that you must be busy but I saw this as a great opportunity to get some much needed information. I am a freshman in college and thus about to decide where I would like my life to go. I am looking to go into Pre-med, but there are some questions I was wondering about concerning being a doctor. One concern I have is that I am very torn between the artistic side of me and the part that loves science and medicine. I feel that if I choose one, I am giving up the other and I want to make the right decision. I am very interested in the field, in the science aspect and also because doctors have been such a help to me when I seriously ill, but sometimes I am not sure that I could hold up to the rigorous demands and schedule of medical school and medicine itself.
I am a very good student and can memorize well, but the prospect of someone's life resting in my ability to remember information is frightening.
What is the typical schedule a doctor has ( length if shifts, typical hours)? I noticed, through reading your blog, that you have children. This is encouraging to me because in the future, I know I may want to have a family but I was very concerned that becoming a doctor would not leave me any time to be at home. Is it ever difficult to find free time or family time?
Another question I was curious about is if you had a hard time when you first had to work the ER. This seems like it would be a very difficult thing to face, not only because of the sometimes gruesome nature of the situation, but also because of the need to be able to come up with snap diagnoses.
A final question I have is if you ever had doubts about your profession during the hard intern/resident stage or, even now, when things get rough.
Thank you for your time and also for your blog. It is very interesting and a great way to get a look at a doctors perspective
1. With regard to your artistic side, many physicians are artistic. Many of them play musical instruments, sing or paint. That is entirely consistent with what you will find among other physicians. Those who are physicians have decided to make being a doctor their vocation and their artistic side their hobby. Being artistic can really help you be a "human" doctor and relate to patients better. It can also help with the creative side of medicine that requires a doctor to make decisions with pieces of information that may not look like much to other people.
2. Yes, training is very rigorous although, in the US, accreditation agencies have demanded less hours for residents overall. You will still face many long hours of work. I always found that the best policy was to get regular exercise and a good diet to help keep up my energy. It really is amazing that if you are dedicated to what you are doing, you will find the energy. It is mind over matter. You will be fatigued and sometimes sleepy but, most residents have learned how to master their fatigue and have learned to focus their minds on the task at hand.
3. There are no "typical hours" for doctors. The great thing is that there are many settings you can pick from when you start your career today. And, as far as having children, make them a priority and you will find the time. But, make sure you have a partner who can understand your committment to medicine and who is willing to share daily tasks (cooking, cleaning, picking up the kids, shopping, etc. etc.).
Residencies are tough--period. It is necessary training and you deal with it.
As for real life practice hours, it really depends on the field you choose. It also depends on the setting in which you decide to practice. For example, if you decide to go into Obestetrics and Gynecology(Babies and Women), your schedule will depend on when the baby decides to be born. Most doctors have partners to share "on call" hours so that they do get a break periodically. If you are in private practice, you are it if you are on call. If you work in a large teaching hospital or large clinic, doctors will usually work "regular days" (that might start as early as 5-6am and may last until 8-9pm) for 3 to 4 days in a row and then be "on call"--meaning they are the person to call if a patient has problems in the overnight hours.
Less rigorous specialties (as far as schedules) might include Dermatology and Ophthalmology, again, depending on the practice setting.
These days, there is even beginning to be a differentiation of doctors by whether they practice in hospitals (hospitalists) or in clinics (outpatient care). Doctors who work in outpatient clinics see patients only in clinics. If a patient needs to be admitted into the hospital, they will arrange for the hospitalist to care for the patient while they are in the hospital.
Primary Care (includes Family Practice, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics) is primarily practiced in clinics now with support from hospital based doctors in most locations. These specialties usually have fairly predictable hours in this type of setting with work being mostly 8am-5pm and paperwork time after.
4. Working in the Emergency Room is only one mandatory rotation during Medical School. All residents have to learn to negotiate the ER during Internship and Residency because that is where many patients come into a hospital. Your concern of having someone's life in your hands and having to make rapid decisions is "Hollywoodized". You would not be allowed to hold that much power until you have learned to make many decisions on your own. Also, not everyone wants to work in the ER unless they want to specialize in Emergency Medicine (a very stressful field with one of the highest rates of burn out in the medical profession). So, don't stress about working in the ER. It is one experience out of hundreds that you will have along the way.
5. As far as doubts, read about my moment of doubt in Medical School. The bottom line is, if you feel it is your calling to be a doctor, you will find solutions along the way for many of your concerns. If you are having really grave doubts about committing, you might consider some other degree in the health professions that would allow you to care for patients without the extended and difficult training program of an MD.