As I finish residency, I have been reflecting on my view of what it means to be a physician. This has been a conflict between past experiences and recently discovered expectations. Medicine is an art that even the brightest people have difficulty grasping, and my past experiences have revealed a side of the profession that cannot be learned in textbooks nor reflected on board scores.
I had had a long-standing curiosity about pediatric cardiology, and in college, through shadowing and volunteering, I solidified this interest. When I was in medical school, my mother died unexpectedly, and my bereavement strengthened my desire to hold onto qualities I had developed, including empathy and humility. In my final year of residency, I participated in a medical mission trip that performed cardiac surgical procedures on children in geographic areas of high need. I quickly bonded with an infant whose echocardiogram revealed defects too extensive for repair on the mission. The plan was to send him home to spend time with his family, where he would eventually die. I could not provide hospice care or analgesia for this child, since there was none to give. The nearest hospital was hours away. I felt helpless. The more I thought about it, however, the more obvious it became that while this was the only option, this was also the best option.
Mitchell SM. The Lost Art of DoctoringReflections of a Pediatric Resident. JAMA Pediatr. 2018;172(1):10. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.3247