I wrote to The Star sometime ago, but since they haven't responded, I'll go ahead and post what I wrote here. Oh, well.
Pride. One beautiful word that has two polar opposite connotations; both have deep significance in the medical world.
Eight years haven’t been that long since I started my career, but that first day at work feels like a lifetime away. We had Facebook then, but our interactions were limited to our circle of friends. We didn’t have Twitter, and our personal blogs did not generate much traffic. Not like today, where everything is out in the open. I still can’t tell which is better, though.
I consider myself luckier than most because my first days as a house officer were gentle. I had supportive medical officers and senior house officers to ease me into the real world. Their first advice, which I still pass on to junior doctors: do not hesitate to call for help if a patient collapses. That was my biggest fear. How should I, how would I, react should a patient collapse.
My first few days were decent, if somewhat scary. However, within the same week, a specialist humiliated me without reserve in front of patients and medical students. I wanted to shrink within myself. I wanted to hide. I didn’t feel angry or spiteful. What I did feel was a sense of inadequacy. Even in that numbed condition, I knew the specialist was right, that a patient’s well-being should not be in incompetent hands.
That was my first lesson in humility.
My second week as a house officer, my fear came to pass. A patient collapsed and had stopped breathing, her heart had stopped beating. I did not hesitate to proceed with CPR, but I did not know what else to do. I called for help. The nurses, cool and collected, helped me with the CPR and instructed me on further acute management steps. They knew I knew what to do. They also knew my nerves needed calming down. They were much more experienced in dealing with dying patients, and I followed their advice. By the time the medical officer arrived, the patient was stabilized. After that day, the nurses were warmer toward me, friendlier.
That was my second lesson in humility.
No, I did not have a breezy experience as a house officer. Lessons in humility kept coming in various forms: a mother of three toddlers asking me why, of all people, she had to be the one with breast cancer; medical officers and specialists reprimanding me (quite loudly) for not being fast enough, knowledgeable enough; nurses teaching me the best ways to get intravenous access without hurting patients much; other house officers teaching me how to get things done smoothly. My colleagues and I worked extra hours, and we had to do 24-hour calls between three to four times a week because we didn’t have enough house officers. We weren’t saints. We did complain with one another, with our family members, with university friends we still kept in touch with. We kept going, knowing that each hit we received was meant to make us stronger, better, safer.
I am neither the brightest nor the best, but I’ve learned a lot along the way.
I’m still learning.
Reading all the letters of complaint to newspapers, rants on Facebook, Twitter and personal blogs, and watching videos posted on YouTube, I think I know what is causing these new house officers much grief. To be a doctor, you ought to have a brilliant mind. Let’s be honest. Almost all of us doctors were overachievers back at school. We were among the top in our classes. When we were in medical school, we competed with people as bright as us--if not brighter than us. Naturally, when working life jolts us into reality, when we are reminded again and again--by doctors, nurses, even attendants--that we are worse than scum, that we are merely bottom feeders, the one thing that gets hit the most is our pride. To be publicly humiliated for not being good enough, that’s something new.
This brings us back to my opening paragraph. Pride, as a noun, is an ugly thing. If you leave medical school naively thinking that you are the best, that everybody else is beneath you, the first hit will knock you down into the muck. It doesn’t matter if you’re made of titanium. You’ll keep getting hits until resentment builds and all you can think of is the hours you spend at the hospital instead of elsewhere, all you can see is the nurses at the counter passing over cases between shifts instead of helping you doing a procedure, and all you can concentrate on is getting the job done.
Take a few steps back and observe your surroundings. Maybe you’ll notice your specialists and medical officers worrying about patients who aren’t doing as well as they should. Maybe you’ll notice heavily pregnant nurses leaning toward an unconscious patient, feeding that patient on time. Maybe you’ll notice an attendant running late when summoned because he has to walk a great distance to retrieve lab results.
Most of all, I hope you’ll notice the fear, the anxiety in the eyes of patients and their relatives. For us, coming to the hospital is a routine; for them, it is a big event that may lead to either celebration or devastation. Patients trust us with their life. We have to respect that trust.
Please remember that respect is not freely given. It is earned. If you want your colleagues to respect you, to treat you better, earn it. Once you earn that respect, everything will fall into place, insyaAllah.
Take pride in what you do, and you’ll derive joy from it. Let pride consume you, and you’ll end up bitter and resentful. When that happens, no amount of pay, no amount of lenient working hours will ever be enough.
Live. Work. Learn. Have fun while you’re at it.