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As long as I can remember, I always say that I will be a doctor when I grew up. Coming from an Asian family, profession with titles are revered and encouraged. When I was in kindergarten, the idea was planted in my mind that the best profession is to be a doctor, a pediatrician to be exact because a clinic with stuff toys & colorful walls seems more appealing. So when any grown-ups asked what I wanted to be when I grow up, my response is always, “I want to be a doctor, a pediatrician” even before my own interests or passions sprung out into being.
As I grew up, I noticed several interests creeping that is way different from my goal to be a doctor.
Exhibit 1. Writing
I love books. I love reading, a habit I absorbed from my mother, a voracious reader, whom I would constantly see with a book in her hand while we lay down in the bed for nap time. I started writing stories in a long yellow pad paper enclosed in a long folder. I never get to finished any of them but I am at my happiest when I write them with my trusty pencil. I would even write stories during my Computer class when I was in high school because I never cared for computer. I realised how in love I am am with writing that during my elementary days, when there was a call for those interested to be part of the school newspaper, I immediately signed in. To my dismay, I was never picked. My sight blacked out for a second out of sheer disappointment and I marched to our English teacher in charged of the selection demanding I should be part of the paper. Mind you, I was a timid child so it was an indication that it meant a lot to me for confronting my teacher. I guess she was impress with my assertion that she did allow me to join the paper even if it means that I will have to just do copywriting jobs for the “real writers” of the school paper.
Exhibit 2. Singing
I was a shy kid but ironically, I love performing arts. I became part of the Glee Club during my elementary days. Our Glee Club teacher discovered that I can sing. So she started giving me solo parts and lead parts during concerts and shows. I love Broadway Musicals. There was a time when I wanted to give up the idea of Medicine and follow the footsteps of Lea Salonga & pursue the theatre. But I do have a love-hate relationship with singing. I love it when it was fun, enjoying the song, belting out the melody but I hated the pressure, being center of attention which can be nerve-wrecking, feeling like a show pony wherever I go when people would know I can sing and the need for perfection & hitting that high note.
Exbihit 3. Religion
I went to an all-girls school run by nuns when I was in 1st 2 years in high school. I love the discipline and the system of the nuns. I liked the simplicity of their quiet life and the meditative lifestyle in union with God. I have always been introspective since I was young so seeking for unworldly enlightenment attracts soul. My years in the school deepened my personal relationship with God. I was praying more and contemplating more about my vocation in life. There was a time when I thought that I am called for the religious life. I can never forget. It was during our film viewing of story of St Francis & St Claire, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”. I felt a cold breeze enveloped my whole being and I ask God silently, “God, are you calling me for the religious life?” I felt an affinity to the religious life that I even started a small group called “Friends of Jesus” for those who are interested in becoming nuns with the guidance of Sister Laura. I thought I can take B.S. Biology in college then enter convent after. But alas, my mother doesn’t really like the idea of me being a nun so I eventually didn’t pursue it. My young yearnings faded slowly.
Exhibit 4. English
If you look at my grades in school until I reached college, my grades in Grammar and Literature were always the highest not mention PE and Religion. I would always excel on those instead of the Sciences.
Exhibit 5. Psychology & Anthropology
This maybe nearest to Medicine. I have always love behavioral science and the internal workings of people’s mind has always be an interest to me.
So as you could see, I may have veer away from pursuing Medicine if I have sticked to younger self’s passions. But I have set that goal earlier on and I never like to be called “Jack of All Trades, Master of None”, if I keep hopping into different courses depending on my current interest for the moment so I forge on and pursued Medicine.
MY LIFE AS A MEDICAL STUDENT
If you are a medical student or a doctor, it is an understatement to say that “Medical School is not a walk in the park.” I was a month or two in medical school when I realised, “Shucks, what have I gotten myself into?” I was studying nonstop, lots of sleepless nights, suffering from anxiety & depression, fear of failing, daily night terrors & bedtime hallucinations. My sister who was supposed to take up Law saw me studying like crazy, she totally gave up the idea of wanting to become a lawyer.
There is a saying during medschool spoken in our loca dialect, “If na basa ka na sa ulan, anhun mo pa kundi magligo ka na lang” which translate to – If you are soaked in the rain, better just bathe in it. It means that since we are already in the situation might as well just survive in it. So with that and armed with my resolved not to be a Jack of All Trades and accompanied by one of the doctor professor’s words of encouragement about resiliency, I decided to stay on. But I made some coping strategies to survive the battlefield in medical school. I stopped caring. I didn’t pressure myself to much. I didn’t push myself to the brink of insanity. I didn’t care if I wasn’t the top of my class. I told myself, “If I am kicked out of medical school then it means I am meant to be a doctor.” (Some classmates that were kicked out of our school for failing subjects can go to other medical school that accepts them to continue on their studies in medicine.) Surprisingly, I was never kicked out of medical school. So I guess being a doctor is really in the cards for me. I took the Medical Board Exam in one take and I got the most awaited prize of all, the title of Dr. before my name.
Let me not bore with the details of my journey as a new doctor, how I choose Family Medicine as my specialisation and my 4 years + experience as a polyclinic doctor in Singapore. I was still ambivalent with my calling as a doctor despite my almost 15 years investment of my time, my youth and my parents to the profession. A part of me still play the game, “what-ifs” and wondering what lies beyond the shiny mantle of “doctorhood”. I would always assume that I can be a great many-other things besides being a doctor and that curiosity would tickle my imagination from time to time. I was starting to love my specialisation but still there is that nagging feeling of what is beyond medicine. Top it, with an exhausting and challenging day at work, you can help indulge with fantasy of breaking free. I know I am not the only one who fantasize the idea of throwing the treasured stethoscope and say, Sayonara to a profession that would test your physical, mental, spiritual, psychological capacity beyond human brinking point. I have doctors who would confide in me that they wish they chose a different path, a more freer path, a less thorny one. It is a noble profession with lots of perks but with heavy crosses too.
THE OPPORTUNITY TO ESCAPE
Nearing my 4th year as a doctor in Singapore, my contract was ending soon and I was in a temporary medical license that would allow to work as a doctor in Singapore only 4 years. My next step was to go back to Philippines to continue my medical career or find another country that would allow me to work as a doctor. My boss spoke to me regarding my situation that he will do everything to find a way that I can still work as a doctor in Singapore and appeal to the medical council of Singapore. He said that I provide valuable contribution to the company so it would be sad to see me go. I knew the chance are dire. So I told him casually that I don’t mind to do non-doctor work too. He was taken aback that I choose to do other work beside as a physician but he said as a matter-of-fact, there are a few job openings in the administrative department.
So i found myself in my 5th year in Singapore as an Assistant Manager in Quality Management. It was a learning experience which I would forever be grateful for and I am happy that I get to dive into the concealed world of Healthcare Quality Management. But during that 2 years stint in a non-doctor job, I learned so much about myself and I have this realisation that I did miss the perks of being a doctor. So when the job offer to work in Oman came, I decided to take the plunge again and return to the ‘faithful difficult lover that I once left in the altar for the sake of novelty & sense of adventure.’
WHY I RETURN TO BEING A DOCTOR
To those who are still stuck in being a doctor and dreams to be release from the shackles of being a doctor, let me share with you what I realised when I was venturing out of the not-a-doctor zone. My experience may be different from those who gave being a doctor and may have different realisations as me. Also take note that I didn’t venture out way out of the box because I was still working in healthcare wearing a different hat.
But let me tell why I return to being doctor:
Disclaimer:Most of items may seem shallow & indulgent but this is just my personal opinion on the matter.
1. I miss being called Doctor
Though some of the people I meet in my admin work who knows me as a doctor, still calls me Doctor, I do miss being called Dr Honey. For my registration to work event, certifications to workshops and even my stamp at work, I am addressed as Miss rather than Doctor. I didn’t think it was right to insist to be address as Doctor in Singapore even if I was in a licensed doctor in the Philippines.
2. I miss the special treatment and respect
I never thought I would miss this kind of treatment reserved for certain types of professions until I got a very curt almost insulting email from a staff who didn’t know I was working as a doctor before and usually staff with that designation often would address the doctor in a respectful way even if he/she would argue or fight with the doctor. I am not saying that non-doctor should be disrespected or treat unjustly. But I guess I felt how others would feel if you don’t have protective mantle of a doctor. People’s way of dealing with changes depending on your professional status and being a doctor give you a filter from nasty circumstance, not always but it does truly helps a lot.
3. I miss the direct patient engagement
Working in healthcare administration helps the patient in a topview, indirect manner by looking at processes and ways to improve patient safety and quality of care but I miss the direct collaboration with my patients. I miss talking to my patients, laughing with them and partnering with them face-to-face in managing their conditions.
4. I miss utilizing my doctor skills & knowledge in its utmost potential
Yes, I can use my doctor’s input in my previous administrative work but it was different that you are actually down the ‘battlefield’ and doing your thing. It does feel like you are a superhero that stashed away your cape in your closet and your superpower unused for the greater good of the public.
5. Starting from scratch
Because I have spent most of my studying years in the medical profession, there were skills and traits that I lack to develop upon entering a new type of work. Those skills, capabilities and traits takes years to be harnessed which depends on the patience of the new industry you’ve joined in. Also, it depends on your speed to learn a new skill and knowing my own learning curve, I have always admit that I am a slow learner. Add in my propensity for perfection, it is frustrating me when time lost is against me.
6. I miss the doctor perks
Besides the respect and special treatment, you receive other doctor perks from people that collaborate with your services. Job offers for doctors also have great allowance and benefits. Though I am not going to complain with my previous company when I was an admin staff because they have been very generous with me.
7. Guilt of not practicing medicine after my parent’s big financial investment to my education
Though my family has been very supportive on my change of career to an office job, I couldn’t help but still feel guilty that they have spend so much for my education and I feel sometimes I wasted it away.
8. I miss the direct impact in serving my patients
It is different seeing patient healing and improving from your care with you in the clinic providing the personal evaluation and management to them. I would still bump into my old diabetic patients in my walks and they would talk about how improved their blood sugars are. It is delight to chat with them and seeing improvement in their health.
9. I miss seeing my happy patients, cute babies and jolly families
Those are my favorite patients. It is wonderful to interact with those types of patients. Being a family physician, it is nice to see kids grow before your very eyes. They used to be in their mother’s tummy while you gave your utmost care for their mother’s health during pregnancy and you get to see them in their diapers, assessing their jaundice level and doing developmental assessment up to their toddler years with their common cold and loose motions and you will be surprised they are teenagers already. It is a joy to take care of families who works with you by collaborating on an agreed management for the patient in their family.
10. Gap year
Because I am ambivalent if I want to say goodbye forever to being a doctor, I know my maxed years of exploring a different career is 2 years. If I stay longer, there is a possible I may have a hard time getting back into the medical field. There are some companies that are particular in gap years of not practicing. They don’t accept doctors who havent been practicing for more than 2 year which henders my possibility to return to medicine forever and it is no turning back.
I do have a few more but I wills stick to 10. I decided to return back to practicing medicine because I feel like it was calling me back. If you ask me now if I regretted going back, I never felt any regret at all. I am happy to be back seeing patients. It felt like a comfortable slightly dangerous ex-boyfriend you know how to deal for being together through years. Will I ever leave my career as a doctor again? Hmmm, I might or probaby not but if I do, I would think really long and hard if I am willing to let go of my career as a doctor again.