I Want to Be a Doctor
13-Being Human
February 4, 2023
Today's question is from a number of you who asked, “Where have you been the last couple weeks? Why haven’t any new episodes dropped?” So today I’m going to talk about something that most physicians and aspiring physicians struggle with. Being human. So to answer the easy part of this. Where I’ve been the last two weeks was recovering from a concussion and then covid. https://podcasts.bcast.fm/i-want-to-be-a-doctor
Welcome to the I want to be a doctor podcast where insider information about what it takes to become a physician is available for anyone. I'm Dr. Robin Dickinson, a board-certified family physician and I will give honest answers to your questions.

Today's question is from a number of you who asked, “Where have you been the last couple weeks?  Why haven’t any new episodes dropped?”  So today I’m going to talk about something that most physicians and aspiring physicians struggle with.  Being human.

So to answer the easy part of this.  Where I’ve been the last two weeks was recovering from a concussion and then covid.  The concussion happened at home when I smashed my head into a door frame.  No violence involved, just my own poor balance and vertigo since my strokes almost a decade ago.  

The covid was super annoying because I’m vaccinated and very careful, always wearing a mask in public and so forth.  But it turns out that both vaccination and masks work.  I was only actually sick for about a day and never had any breathing problems despite the fact I have severe asthma.  And even though the three days before my positive covid test were quite busy with kids’ activities, church activities, and so forth, not a single one of my contacts has tested positive.  So I’m overall relieved to discover from personal experience that vaccination and masks actually work.

I’m also realizing that I wasn’t taking care of myself AT ALL after my concussion and wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for the covid test.  I really desperately needed to give my brain some time to recover and was struggling to get through, but I was still trying to push my poor concussed brain to do ALL THE THINGS.  

So today I want to take a moment and talk about being human.

In many ways, physicians are expected to do and be in ways that are outside the usual human experience.  If I told you to let some random person at the park give you medication to make you both unconscious and paralyzed and then cut you open--well, you would tell me that I was nuts.  Of course you don’t let random people do that.  And if you went back not that many years in human history, anyone attempting to do that would have been considered dangerous or crazy or something.  But we expect doctors to do that without thinking that they are horrible people because of it.

We are expected to be able to deliver terrible, life changing news in one appointment and then show patience and empathy about someone’s head cold in the next appointment.

Our training involves pushing our bodies to their physical limits, and then making life or death decisions, performing procedures with sharp instruments, or simply being caring and wonderful humans while 30 hours into a shift without any sleep and inadequate breaks for food or toileting.

Being ill or unavailable for our patients is often considered not just inconvenient, but morally wrong.  There were actually patients who were mad at me for being on bedrest for a short time when I was pregnant with my daughter.  How dare I not be available for their appointments?  And there are ongoing discussions about whether a medical degree is wasted on physicians who choose to work part time or pursue a non-clinical career.  Are we breaking some sort of moral obligation to serve?

And so when our human bodies break down, we’ve been trained to keep going.  I cannot tell you how many doctors I’ve seen working with significant physical or emotional problems that really warranted some medical leave.  I personally started seeing patients again a week after my strokes.  Because I’d already rescheduled their appointments while I was in the hospital and didn’t want to have to make them wait even longer.  And I taught classes all afternoon immediately after my concussion, smiling and laughing with my students and forgetting the significant pain in my head.  

Because most physicians have discovered that we can completely ignore our bodies if we’re focused on our patients or students.  I worked while in labor with my son and have cared for patients while suffering what was an unbearable migraine or incredibly difficult emotional pain.  But as soon as I’m focused on my work, that all disappears.  Some physicians take it so far that they use their work like a drug to numb their feelings, their physical suffering, their relationship problems, and so forth.  

In order to become a physician, most people learn to deprive themselves.  While other people are out having fun, you’re studying or volunteering or doing research.  You stay up late preparing for an exam or finishing a paper.  And then once in medical school, the amount of information is literally impossible for a human being to learn...but you try to do it anyway.  Residency develops not just your clinical abilities but pushes you further physically, mentally, and emotionally than you’ve ever been pushed before.

And after all that.  You’re still human.  You still have a body that gets hurt or sick.  You still have feelings that need attention.  You still are part of a family and community that needs you as a person, not just a professional, and that you need too.  You need rest and hobbies and fun times.

It’s easy to always be saying, “I don’t have time for that now, there’s this thing I need to do, this exam, this project, this goal, I’ll take care of myself as soon as I’ve done that.”  But the reality is that there’s never an end to things you will find need doing before you can take care of yourself. 

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, put on your own oxygen mask first before helping the person next to you.  This is standard instructions on any commercial airplane flight.  If the cabin becomes depressurized and you need to put on an oxygen mask, it’s critical that you put on your own so that you can be fully conscious while helping those around you.  

That’s true for your life also.  You will be a better student, friend, physician, and so forth if you take care of yourself.  But don’t just do it for others.  Do it for yourself.  Because you deserve the same good things as every other human on this planet.  

That's it for today. Subscribe, share with your friends and mentors; and remember to live the life that is right for you with your personality interests and values. 
Please send your questions to me at podcast@docrobinschool.com. That's podcast at d-o-c Robin like the bird school dot com.
Show notes are available on the podcast website linked below. 
This episode was sponsored by Dr. Robin's School, the first premedical curriculum for kids, and recorded and produced in beautiful, downtown Englewood, Colorado.