This I Believe
I believe in Medicine, that is, the profession, the practice, and the very way of life that only a physician can fully know. I believe in its power to heal, and its potential to better the lives of people.
I have been fascinated by Medicine since early childhood, first perceiving it as a mysterious and magical power over the human body. This fascination began with my own hospitalization for major surgery as a young child. I looked upon my physicians with awe, that a mere human being could hold such knowledge and such skill to make me well. Of course, as my own medical education progressed, the reality became evident. Medicine is anything but mysterious and magic. In fact, that is selling it short. It is a human endeavor – certainly a lofty, rewarding, and noble one, but far from perfect, and afflicted with all the faults and foibles of its very human practitioners.
But rather than being disappointed with this realization, I became all the more fascinated and passionate about Medicine as I learned. Understanding the human body requires intense and prolonged study, and that is only the beginning. The ability to apply this knowledge to a patient’s complaints and physical findings, in order to make the right decisions as to underlying diseases and how best to manage them, demands a concentrated effort that is molded by years of experience. The fact that these decisions impact the very core of real human lives adds to the wonder of Medicine, but also to how daunting is its challenge. It is not magic at all. It is simply hard work and sacrifice that is borne of a total commitment to the patient, and to Life.
Ambrose Bierce defined a physician as: “One upon whom we set our hopes when ill, and our dogs when well.” It is hard to fight the public’s perception of Medicine as magic, and physicians as magicians who should always cure and always make things right. After all, I once held those same perceptions, and had the same expectations of perfection from my own physicians. But Medicine is so much better than that. Physicians are human, and do not belong on pedestals. I only wish I were able to communicate the joys and wonders of my profession to an increasingly skeptical public, and to find that perfect balance, in counseling patients, between compassion, hope, and hard reality.
I have found after several years of practicing Medicine that, on balance, the good far outweighs the bad in this field. I have come to realize that Medicine is simply a microcosm of Life. Despite its frustrations and disappointments, its setbacks and stresses, and how misunderstood it is, still it is precious. And that is why I continue to believe in Medicine.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.