Do you have a strong enough faith in your knowledge to bet your life on it?

September 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

Our first week of medical school is over and we feel it in every ounce of our beings. Our legs are sore from hustling back and forth between classes, office depot, and the anatomy museum; our backs from carrying god-knows how many kilos of textbooks; our eyes from the thousands of words that have fluttered in and out of our range of view; and our hands from cramping around the body of our pens in desperate efforts to log as much of our light-speed lectures as possible. In a single, introductory lecture on medical chemistry, our professor covered at least a year, if not two, of general chemistry. This is the big leagues, B. Welcome.

The freshman class is quite possibly the most varied, eclectic group of people I have ever encountered. Students range in age from 18 to 30, from almost every country I can name without looking at a map, and with every kind of background. Many have degrees within the sciences – neuroscience, biology, microbiology, chemistry, pharmacology – whilst some are fresh out of high school and others recently finished with military service in their home country. It feels strange to share such a pivotal passion with so many different people. We are all here for the same reason. We want to be doctors. We want to be really, really good doctors. Which leads us to the title of my blog post: do you have a strong enough faith in our knowledge to bet your life on it?

In order to explain this title, I have to give a little background. Destination? Our Biostatistics and Informatics lecture on Thursday afternoon.

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“Why are you here?” the professor asked a blonde girl, seated in the 5th row of the packed 250-seat lecture hall.

“I want to be a doctor…” she smiled shyly.

“Good. You want to be a doctor. And you?” he pointed to a male student seated behind her.

“Well, I want to be a good doctor.”

“Yes. A good doctor,” our professor laughed, “and what makes a good doctor?”

After several students threw out answers like “intelligent”, “up-to-date with technology”, “nice”, “empathetic”, and “strong”, he returned to the front of the room. “You are all here in hopes to enter a field that says to the world: I have a never-ending desire to expand upon my knowledge. There is no end to this study. These next six years of your life are just the beginning of a lifetime of knowledge. You must be able to doubt, to question, and to think in a scientific manner. Being a doctor requires a special attitude – a very, special attitude. As a doctor, you will have the right to look into the personal lives of sick people. And you will have to make decisions that directly affect the outcomes of these people’s lives.”

“So, is faith in our knowledge strong enough to bet our life on it?” he asked as he changed the slide on the projector:

He went on to tell of Murillo’s Adoration of the Magi, Károly Simonyi’s work with Hungary’s first linear particle accelerator, and then of how we should always make our own mathematical calculations when doing an extreme activity such as bungee jumping.

“Doctors make decisions.” he said. “Nurses can draw blood, administer medications, and care for the patients. But doctors, doctors direct the treatment. It is doctors that must diagnose and make the decision – and that is where you will need statistics.”

As he continued on into his statistics lecture, I found myself stuck on the fact that one day, I will make a decision that determines whether or not someone lives or dies. And not just that one day, but many times in the days after. Being a doctor goes beyond wanting to help people or wanting to work with the human body. By becoming a doctor, you are confirming your faith in your knowledge, in your ability to heal. You are making a promise to your patients that you have prepared yourself to the best of your abilities and that you trust in those abilities so much so that you would stake your own life on them.

It’s scary to think about it now, to think that the things I am learning are putting me in that position. But rather than being intimidated by it, I find myself embracing it. As much as I fear the implications of my future decisions, I know that now is the time to prepare myself for them. I have to do my best every day, at every lecture and in every practical, to ensure that, when I am done, I have maximized the years of preparation leading up to the day when I will make my first decision.

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