I received wonderful news this week. I will be attending the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in August as a first-year medical student! As Melanie and I research activities and sights in New York, where we are going to live, how we are going to pay for tuition, and other logistical necessities, I continue to find my mind wandering and worrying about what lies up ahead. In an effort to demystify my future I decided to watch a PBS NOVA special called Doctors’ Diaries. This program follows seven doctors starting from their first day of medical school at Harvard. The program does a fantastic job at showing the different students’ personalities, and allows the viewer to get a glimpse of what it takes to become a doctor and what being a doctor entails.
Some aspects of the documentary are disturbing. As an intern, talking about the stressfulness of being a physician, one doctor says he’s “become this person that [he] doesn’t particularly like.” Another says “I’m gradually just getting more and more tired.” Several of the doctors go through a divorce or two (or three). A wife describes the time her husband is able to give her as a “shell” of the man she married. I also watched an intern connect with her patient before heart surgery and then, after six hours in the OR, pronounce that patient dead. These are some of the things I fear.
One doctor says, “In my years of practice now I’ve seen all the range of extreme tragedy, extreme joy. I can’t think of anything that’s grounded me so much in my life as being a doctor.”
There are also many uplifting aspects to the documentary. My favorite aspect is the film subjects’ interaction with patients and other doctors. These students and interns genuinely care for the people they are helping. One doctor develops a way to get eyeglasses distributed to rural areas of China. It is refreshing to see genuine care provided by all the physicians documented since this type of care is the reason many (including myself) go into medicine to begin with.
“You’re going to be okay. We’re going to take care of you and you’re going to be alright.” Being able to say (and mean) this is what satisfies one physician in the documentary. “I wouldn’t trade that for the world.”