Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Who Chose Medicine?!

The medical students on my firm and I adopted a visiting elective student over the past fortnight. He's a really friendly guy from a big medical school in Pakistan. Obviously, as none of us have any experience of medical education outside of the UK or in fact our medical school, we were all very interested to ask all about medical school in Pakistan. In turn our elective student was really curious about medical education in the UK. Lots of questions were asked both ways, but the most eye opening question was asked the other day over a tea break. Totally unpromted this guy asked "So, who chose medicine? You or your parents?!"

The unanimous answer to this from us was "Well we did." without a second thought. This elective student was quite surprised by this as his parents had told him to study medicine, and many of his colleagues at university were in the same position. It took a lot of reasoning to convince him that for the vast majority of british medical students this wasn't the case.

Our first point was that medical school applications rely on interviews in the UK. To get through the interview you have to show a passion for wanting to study medicine and genuine motivation. He very rightly pointed out that it's quite easy to fake this. If you're that content on fulfilling your parents wishes then clearly faking enthusiasm and giving the standard "I want to help people..." response isn't the hardest thing in the world. Nor is obtaining sufficient work experience. We also tried to use the arguement that teenagers in this country are not as likely to care what their parents think. Clearly this isn't true at all. Although I had no problem telling my Dad that my career choices had nothing to do with him not everyone as the same relationship with their parents.

Since this conversation I'm left wondering more and more who's actually at medical school because they want to be. It's so taboo to suggest that it wasn't your idea to go to medical school how many people would admit to it? Surely not everyone who was pressurised into the course would hate it, I'm sure many would end up enjoying it. It does leave me thinking hard about quite how many people I see every day and work with on the wards don't actually want to be there. Even just a month of clinics has shown me that as much as I'm enjoying medicine it's not all roses. I can imagine that getting up at 6am to be in the hospital to clerk patients, wait around for doctors and be grilled over our lacking medical knowledge is an awful experience for those who don't want to be there.

This has also reminded me about the first time my Dad and I had a proper talk about what career I wanted to pursue. I'd already known that I wanted to become a doctor long before the conversation with my Dad but it was a bit tricky. Since about the age of 12 my Dad had tried to get me interested in architecture (not his career, but something that interested him). I had absolutely no interest. I tried to look keen about it, but it really isn't me. I'm neither artistic nor good as physics/maths. After years of being coerced into considering architecture my Dad accepted that it just wasn't the career for me. After this came more years of "She'll make an amazing lawyer... she's so eloquent and loves arguing." Now who wouldn't love to just argue in court all day? Unfortunately law requires lots of things that completely don't interest me, like learning laws for example. I think that probably ruled that out. So I left everyone wondering what I was planning.

One day talking about A-level choices I decided to come out with it. "Papa, I think I want to be a doctor." He didn't look impressed. Most people would be confused by this. Clearly a doctor is a well respected job, most people think it pays well and has a relatively high amount of job security. Why wasn't my Dad jumping up and down with excitement?!

"But it was doctors that killed your mother."

My Dad has a firm belief that the whole reason my Mum died was entirely due to NHS incompetance. Granted she had been going to the GP 3 months before hospital admission and was in hospital another 3 months before she was diagnosed with heavily metasasized terminal cancer. Obviously if the GP would have not dismissed her as having a viral chest infection/flu repeatedly for 3 months then maybe the cancer could have been caught earlier. Somehow I doubt that things were this simple if it took 3 months of on and off hospital admission for anyone to notice that she had cancer. Maybe even if things would have been picked up then nothing would have changed. It certainly doesn't mean that every doctor involved in my Mum's care was useless. Or does it?

I've managed to accept that doctors are only human. But I think this is one of the main reasons I want to become a doctor. To try and stop this happening to other people and to try and reassure myself that doctors aren't incompetant. Unfortunately I'm not always so well reassured (but that's a topic for another post).

Now that I've been studying for a few years, although my Dad still firmly believes that the NHS killed his wife, he's really supportive. In fact he's so supportive that it's verging on hilarious. Not only does he do the typical parent thing of introducing me as "My daughter Lily who studies medicine..." to everyone he meets if I'm there or not, he's taking the boasting to another level. On the phone in a casual conversation I mentioned I'd got a clinical skill signed off that day in my log-book. I explained to him that this meant that I was good enough at the skill for a clinincian to watch me do it and think I'd got the hang of it. Next weekend when I was at home loads of random family friends were congratulating me on it. A little OTT but very amusing. I'm sure it'll soon wear thin when he realises I have about 20 for every rotation.

Although my Dad wasn't keen for me to study medicine, now that I am he's very keen for me to be a surgeon. I think this is from some deep rooted lay-person belief that surgeons are the best and cleverest doctors. I sincerely doubt I'll ever be a surgeon for many reasons, I hate anatomy, I want a family, I like talking to patients and I have a strange obesssion with hormones and babies, to name just a fraction of my many reasons. However I do think surgery is pretty cool and exciting, so if I've been in theatre and I'm chatting to my Dad on the phone after I guess I seem pretty animated talking about it. This is more due to the fact that it's easier to get my Dad to understand what happens in a heart bypass and to tell him about how cool it was seeing a beating heart in someone's chest than it would be explaining how interesting it was seeing a certain ECG of an arrhythmia and how it was being controlled using sotalol which in fact interests me much more.

I think I'm going to have to keep convincing him that surgery isn't the only option for a successful medical student, and to be honest even if deep down he still think's I'd be better off being a surgeon I'm lucky that I can be pretty certain that he'll support me whatever choice I make. A small part of me will always be worried that I've disappointed him though, which I guess is why many people follow their parent's dreams instead of their own.

Lily xXx


Anonymous said...

If doctors killed your mum, wouldn't that be even more reason to become one?

Abdullah Shahid said...

Lolz..yeah this is rather a problem here in Pakistan. Many of my friends at my medical university are there because of there parents. Even I'm. It's not that the parents force or something, its just the parents' wish and their respect and the family values in our society. Nevertheless I believe that everyone should be given the liberty to choose their own path!

Dragonfly said...

I think that a fair number of people (particularly in undergrad med) get into it for the wrong reasons and in many cases haven't really thought through the implications that medicine will have for them... Some of these people are the ones that drop out in the first 1-3 years.

My Dad wanted me to do engineering for ages...he is quite over it now though.

Anne Marie said...

Hello Lily
Just came across your blog tonight and wanted to say that I think it is great.
I hope you will keep on blogging as it is very good to hear your voice.
Anne Marie

PS My mum thought I would never become a doctor because I didn't like looking at blood:)

Anonymous said...

Hi Lily,

I know this is a very late comment, but I wanted to add that I feel similarly to you. My grandad died in similar circumstances to your mum, and it is part of the reason I am applying for graduate medicine.

I'm ploughing through your blog on a chilly duvet day in the north, so hopefully I'll see how you're getting on there, but wanted to say good luck for everything to come

f xxx