Stomaching Medicine

Despite the Asian stereotype, my parents have always been quite liberal with my career aspirations and have never pressured me to try my hand in medicine. For me, this was a good thing. Mostly because I’ve never showed any interest in it other than a mild flirtation with the idea when I was in year ten and in love with biology and chemistry. It ended abruptly as soon as I realised that I would inevitably spiral into a nihilistic depression upon the death of any patient under my care.

After I left high school and began to pursue journalism, I discovered from my friends studying nursing and midwifery and medicine that I wasn’t missing out on much. It wasn’t just the vivid descriptions of the putrid wounds or the hilarious dreaded ‘code brown’ events or the reflexes of the male genitals or the smell of cadavers lingering on your fingertips long after you’ve washed your hands even if you’ve double gloved or the aroma of fresh placenta (it smells like menstruation, in case you were curious. No? Too much unnecessary information? Yeah, I thought so too). No, there was a lot more. Fierce competition from applications into medical schools to the actual job, epic study loads that would evolve into marathon and/or graveyard shifts and the ever-present potential for emotional breakdowns due to stress or trauma…or both.

The moment that secured the fact that I was never cut out to be a medical professional came last semester. I had decided to write on the theme ‘Illness and Dying’ for a final assessment piece for my writing subject. It was to be based loosely on the perspective of a medical student. So I did a little research on palliative care, interviewed a friend and wrote two or three sentences before giving up on it completely. It was too much, I concluded, to balance the piece so that it was light enough that the audience wouldn’t become suicidal upon reading it but serious enough to respect the topic. And that was it. Even though the field was interesting, it wasn’t for me.

The self-sacrifice of doctors is an overplayed tune, as clichéd as the ballads of brave soldiers. On the other hand, while the World Wars have already shattered much of the romanticism of the battlefield, the images of doctors are still superficial, steeped in social prestige and intellect. Little do we ever talk about how these attributes become commonly associated with them and the cost at which they come.

It’s not cheap. Constantly balanced between compassion and professional objectivity, under immense pressure to find the right answers from years of overwhelming amounts of study and experience, and enduring the sight of other people’s biological functions that – let’s admit it – we could all live without witnessing.

And for what? I doubt the average person would endure such ordeals purely to prove to themselves and to society that they are more than just the average person. Surely the prestige is the result, rather than the cause, of their careers. Surely it comes from the sacrifices they make.

The war they wage, while more understated than the traditional war, is no less important and more relentless. They protect us from our own bodies. Yes, it takes bravery to fight and protect with your life at stake but it takes an entirely different form of courage to put your mentality, emotions and lifestyles on the line.

While I have taken up journalism in hopes of improving the world socially through communication, they have plunged themselves into a world that most shy away from and others, such as myself, only dare approach at pen’s length and behind a paper shield. They practice ideals such as equality and compassion far better than those who teach it and we who discuss it. In light of all this, they’re deserving of those glorified associations we make.

So should I ever become a parent of someone who chooses to don the stethoscope, my pride would not come from the immediate respect the title calls for or the financial security the position offers or the smarts they hopefully must possess. I would be proud because they would have the courage, the generosity and the strength of character that I can only write about.

Thoughts?