This is an open letter that I hope will reach you. But it’s not just for you. This letter is also meant for those whom I have never personally met. This letter is for those in the future, as well as the past.
I’m sure by now you’ve grown tired of your seniors and superiors going, “Back in my day, we were much much better.” Truth is, what we feel is nostalgia. Despite our hardships – or, rather, in spite of our hardships – here we are, survivors who give unsolicited advice on how to be good doctors. Truth is, things were terrible back then. Before my time, the pay sucked. Like, minimum-wage-was-better-than-our-call-claims sucked. During my time, we had a minimum number of doctors, and our seniors, who were supposed to be our mentors, were overworked and too tired to teach us on proper care. During my time, we had calculative colleagues who got away with doing the least amount of work. We had doctors who could be seen running about like a chicken whose neck didn’t get cut just right but, like said chicken, didn’t get anything done other than creating a bloody mess. We had doctors like me and some of my friends who had (and still have) to give that much extra effort to cover the problematic ones, but got into trouble (and still do) whenever we were too tired to give it our all.
Sure, we also had fun, but back in my day, things weren’t that great. My seniors and registrars back then taught me enough so that I got things right. If I didn’t cause more morbidity than I should, it was all good. I am forever indebted to them, my teachers as well as my elder siblings, but I’m not ashamed to share with my juniors the things I got wrong. I’m not proud of my mistakes, but it’s better that you learn from my wrongs than make your own.
But whenever you do make your own wrongs, you know that I’m there to correct you, to guide you. I don’t go telling everyone but you about your mistakes. You know that. If you get it right, I make an effort to congratulate you and to encourage you to keep it up, to be better. You know that, too.
There has always been one reason for that: I want you to be much better than I was when I was in your position. On my second day of my Master’s Degree program, my professor told me that with my work experience, I would have already been a neurosurgeon in his country, but I knew nothing. Sure, it stung, but I knew he was right. I’ve learned much since then, but to this day, there are those who still think that I should not have been inducted into the fraternity.
Because I’m not dedicated enough. I won’t be a humblebrag and regale everyone with my work ethics, but you know how I work. You know that the accusation is unfounded.
But enough about that. That story is for another time.
The reason I’m writing this is that I am disappointed in you. Yes, you. When I give you my plan, sometimes you go, “It’s okay Boss. I’ll discuss with someone else.” When I discuss a patient with you, and another specialist calls, you leave me mid-sentence until the other specialist is done. When I review my patients, you don’t attend to me and carry on with your own work instead. When I point out what you’re doing is wrong, you snap at me, saying, “I’m tired, can’t you see?” When I scold you for your irresponsibility, never once do you say, “I’m sorry.” When you get into trouble you expect me to be there, but when I ask for a little piece of your time, “Boss, I’m outta here.” I’ve done my darnest to teach you to get it right, but you take shortcuts anyway, because for you, it’s just work that needs to get done. I’ve given my hardest to fight for you, but it is another person’s scrap of approval that matters the slightest whit.
I get berated lots of time for blurring the boundaries between specialist and medical officer. Truth is, I don’t know how to act like a specialist. I’ve been blessed enough to have seniors who took me under their wing right from the start, and I still call them Kakak and Abang, for they are my elder sisters and brothers. I’ve been blessed enough to have different senior nurses who gave me the same sage advice throughout every stage of my career: don’t ever change how you treat others, how you treat us. Stay just the way you are.
I can force you to be there, but I can’t force you to care. And it’s killing me. Because I care too much. I care about you, and I care about my patients. It kills me that you don’t afford them the dignity of a fellow human being. It kills me that you identify them as bed numbers and not their given names. It kills me that I have to ask you for updates on the patients we operated together instead of you updating me without needing to be prompted.
So this is where we part ways. This is where we say goodbye. Forgive me if I only actively care about just one person among your ranks. I wish you all the best, and I hope that one day you’ll be amazing no matter what you do, be in in the medical line or outside, and that you get to tell your juniors that during your day, things weren’t that great but you made it anyway.
I hope that you’ll remember that you had a teacher and an elder brother that tried, and failed, and said goodbye.
Above all, I hope you’ll never get to experience that.