Medicine is a very technical field. It’s about making things right by doing things right. We do labs, procedures, scans and just about anything we need to do to figure out what is wrong and how to fix it. Treatment must be done correctly. Surgeries must be precise and follow protocol closely, and even then, it may not go well. For medicine to be the best it can be, perfect detection, treatment and follow-up must be the goal. After all, isn’t this why we are always striving for better ways, better treatments and better statistics?
PA school is about learning how to understand normal body functions, what could go wrong, and of course, how to fix it. We want to be the best clinicians we can be, so we strive to learn every little detail we can, every treatment possible in a short amount of time. My experience is that, in the crazy frenzy of PA school, I quickly became a robot. I forgot the “why.” I have to learn how to do everything correctly because I want to heal people, right? But I want to be empathetic and have a heart and attitude that is genuinely compassionate toward my patients. So, how can we remain emotionally connected while we obsess about the thousands of details that are constantly running through our heads? It seems nearly impossible. It’s a constant battle.
The easy answer would be to simply cut ourselves some slack—to relax and remind ourselves that no one is perfect. But that is the wrong answer, because if I put myself in my patients’ shoes, I would really hope that my provider wasn’t taking it easy. I would hope my provider was doing everything he or she could to practice the best medicine she or he knew how; I would hope they were striving for perfection. So, I will continue striving for perfection, but I’ve also learned that there’s a question I always need to ask myself. It snaps me out of “robot” mode. The question is simply: “Why?”
Why do I want to practice medicine? I have to stop, take a deep breath and really get introspective. Why do I want to help heal people? When I stop and honestly answer, robot mode isn’t that hard to overcome after all. I easily remember all the reasons I wanted to go into medicine in the first place. I remember my grandpa who passed away from lung cancer and all the times I visited him in the hospital. I remember my aunt who has cancer. I remember the story of how my mom almost died because of a clinician’s carelessness. Once I remember these stories, everything clears up. It all seems doable. I can keep persevering through this insanely tough thing called medicine. I can keep striving for perfection—because my patients deserve it.
I don’t want to be a robot. I want to look at my patients’ ailments from their perspective. I want to empathize and feel their pain. I want to be their friend and their hero. I want to work myself as hard as humanly possible because they need me. To practice medicine and keep these goals in mind, it is essential that I ask myself, “Why?” … as often as possible. If you want to get out of your robot mode, my advice is that you do the same. Stop, listen and honestly answer. Then, keep pushing toward the goal. Medicine is not easy, but it’s worth it.
A version of this blog was first posted on PA Student Essentials.
Melanie DeBosier is a second-year PA student at Northeastern University in Boston. She has a passion for treating and educating underserved populations. She also enjoys exploring the outdoors with her husband.