Of getting lost, gold plated stethoscopes and medical careers

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“Lost”.That’s the best word to describe my general feeling the day after my graduation. I don’t know where to start my medical career. There weren’t any practical road maps to take on. I say practical because it’s frustrating trying to figure out the nitty-gritty of establishing a practice on your own! Despite swallowing voluminous medical information and bombardments of idealism sans borders, I’m still lost in the opportunities in front of me. Regurgitating medical facts you learn in the lecture halls and clinics is not an easy thing to do. Those facts I learned (and still learning it) the hard way.

The great enlightenment so far focused on two things- that career decisions solely depend on principles, values and capabilities and that you will be entirely responsible for whatever outcomes it may bring- good or bad. There are no blueprints, only guides. No boxed in career, or prepared “road maps”. Decisions are based on your particular situation and preferences. Thus,I prefer taking matters my way- read and criticize information and then decide squarely, sooner than later if possible.

As a general guide, you may start off with envisioning yourself 10 or 20 years from now and then on retirement. Do you see yourself still practicing medicine? Comfortably? Where and what type of community? In what field? These are some of the questions that may help you through building your career goals, a beacon perhaps. There are no right or wrong choices mind you. Having one scary goal is far better than having no goals at all.
Having a “beacon”of your future medical career isn’t enough however. You have to assess the environment your going to “jump” in. The medical world is far more complex than you can imagine and is “harsh” by some comfortable standard. Med school has yet to learn a way to teach this real life scenarios in the clinics and lecture halls. Not to paint a bleak outlook, but a career in medicine will not be handed to you in silver platter just because you succeeded in adding the letters MD to your name. Discern the various stakeholders in the field and weigh their contributions. Read my thoughts on the stakeholders here (Five things the government wont tell you when you start your practice). You might be surprised at how much med school has isolated you from “the practice”.

The next big question now comes, “Am I cut for a specialty?” Should I stay as a GP or study some more for a more specialized field?” I’m not going to tell you what to do, but if you Google for the medical forums in the net, there are hundred guides for you to answer this question. The bottom line is that you decide for yourself based on your goal, preferences and capabilities. Don’t be lured by fame and fortune. Some docs are superstars in their fields and flunk on another. If you still can’t decide which way to go through, you may want to read through this article “Alternative Practice Styles for Physicians” before deciding on to your career decisions. There are other careers besides being a “GP” or a “Specialist”.

Another lingering question you probably is mulling to right now is money. “Will I earn from this profession? Or will I get rich?” In my opinion, unless you were already born into this world with stocks, bonds and mutual funds in your crib, you won’t get (filthy) rich in this profession. But you’ll live comfortable enough to feed your family and a little for your R&R. More than that, our society sees it as taboo for docs to earn more. One patient told me he was afraid of another physician who examined him with gold plated stethoscopes. I kidded I wield a scalpel and that physician is his anesthesiologist. That OR never pushed through.

Of all the questions running in your head now, its probably “time” that bothered you the most. “How long till I get successful in this career?” Sadly, there are no definite answers to that. One thing for sure, at the beginning of your practice you’ll have plenty of time daydreaming and planning your vacations, but you don’t have the money to spend for those dreams. Once you earn and save enough for those vacations, you won’t have time to enjoy them because your darn too busy seeing patients! That the irony of a “successful” practice.

So go ahead, listen to those prozaic speeches of grandeur and beauty of the medical world. Take a hint from them but make sure you bring in paracetamol for information headaches and AlMgOH for your empty stomach. You will need a lot of these drugs along when you traverse the road of your professional medical career! When you’re lost, don’t worry. You’re not alone.

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Dr. Remo-tito Aguilar co-founded #HealthXPh. A board certified orthopedic surgeon, he is previously Chief of Clinics at St. Louis Hospital in Tacurong City and a consultant in Orthopedics at the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City. Dr. Aguilar is a healthcare social media evangelist and writes his medical musings at The Cast & Curious (www.remomd.com).

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