When I Grow Up…
What do I want to be when I grow up?
It’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves, or been asked by others, at some point. Kids attempt to answer it by using their imagination, ‘playing pretend’ and taking on various personas (complete with elaborate costumes and props).
Speaking from personal experience, I think kids often imitate the people whom they admire or perceive as heroes: police officers (Police and thief type), firefighters, veterinarians, detectives(from Hollywood movies of course), teachers, doctors, etc. There are plenty of other (highly entertaining) examples (Kid president, anyone?), but I think you get the idea. Children use playtime and games as a way to understand complex adult roles, and they pick up on observable social and cultural cues from the people, places, and things around them.
The same was true of my own childhood. By the time I was eight years old, I had two younger siblings and so my go-to ‘play pretend’ careers were those in which I felt approved when I received positive attention from my parents and other adults. I didn’t understand or even recognize my call then (naturally – I was eight), but I loved pretending to be an electronic engineer. I opened up every spoilt (well, not exactly spoilt – “faulty” is a more appropriate word to use) electronic appliance I could find in the house and tried fiximg it without even having any knowledge of what purpose each component in the electronic served. My favorite of all was those small casio radio players. Most times I ended up destroying them after I had concluded they could never work again (even if they were given to “certified radio repairers”). So, in thinking that I might be able to salvage something from them, before throwing them away, I remove the magnets and perform “experiments” with them (putting a magnet on each side of a paper or cardboard and using one to drive the other). I must have really felt like a badass Engineer. Of course, this narrative wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t state that I was beaten severely quite a number of times for “repairing” what was not in need of a repair “yet” (I was only doing a preventive repair, huh). So growing up, my response to ‘What do you want to be?’ was an obvious one: an Engineer. I loved electronics, and I was also pretty good at “fixing” them.
Throughout secondary school, I became more interested in the medical field, and as I was filling in my JAMB form, I knew I was settling for what would be a six-year (or longer with the way things are going) journey to becoming a doctor. But what I didn’t know was that I was dedicating my time, strength, and mind to pursuing a career in more than just science and medicine.
Both out of curiosity and as a way to compare my own ideas to something more concrete, I looked up the definition given for ‘doctor’ in the Merriam-Webster offline dictionary on my phone. The entry is clear and straightforward:
doctor: noun | doc·tor | ˈdäk-tər
a person who is skilled in the science of medicine : a person who is trained and licensed to treat sick and injured people.
And that’s just the ‘simple’ definition; scrolling down, there’s a more in depth description of the term. But each listing is numbered, so as to be clearly separate and distinct from another. That’s not the case in my mind. Combined, they help summarize my perspective. A doctor is “an eminent theologian – a sound explorer of doctrine”, “a learned or authoritative teacher”, “a person skilled or specializing in the healing arts”, “a person who restores, repairs, or fine-tunes things”.
Doctors are many things, whether in the eyes of patients, friends and family, mentors, or pupils.
Doctors are teachers. Their patients are their students – doctors teach them about the design of the human body, the normal and the abnormal. No two doctors’ teaching styles are the same, just as a patient’s manner of learning differs between individuals. Patients come from all sorts of backgrounds and levels of education, so flexibility is key.
Doctors are students. A doctor’s education lasts indefinitely, even in the absence of a formal institution or classroom setting. The prospect of encountering new challenges and perpetually seeking to improve oneself is what makes the medical field exciting. As research emerges it can assert a new concept of thought, reinforce an already accepted scientific belief, or turn knowledge on its head and render it obsolete. We read and study, we take tests (lots and lots of tests), and we keep our certifications current. Our superiors and our peers are our professors. We can learn from textbooks, videos, journals, or from personal experiences in hospital wards and clinics. We observe methods of doctor-patient communication and surgical techniques, and we commit them to memory.
Doctors are counselors, personal trainers, mechanics. Tooth pain? Orofacial pain? Chest pain? Arthritic flare-ups? Cardiologists and rheumatologists might as well be firefighters, diagnosing and battling pathophysiologic blazes within the human body. Doctors have to be good detectives, too, and not just during the process of coming up with a differential diagnosis. They have to take into account their patient’s entire wellbeing, which includes having the ability to identify signs of physical and emotional abuse.
Doctors are artists and historians. They are immersed in the beauty and complexity of the arts just as much as they are in the science. The human body is a glorious cover requiring the critical eye of a doctor who discerns connections and truth beyond the surface. Surgeons are conductors of great orchestras comprised of steady hands and pristine instruments. My uncle often reminds me, “It’s called the art of medicine for a reason”.
There’s not always a solution, or, if there is, it may not offer a rewarding sense of closure, because medicine is full of constantly changing variables: the uniqueness of the patient and their circumstances, location, timing, the doctor’s own strengths and limitations. It’s unrealistic to expect one surgeon to precisely replicate the skill of another surgeon. Sometimes, there’s no guarantee medicine will prevail – the emotion of human suffering is art, too, in its own way, and though not always comforting, we can be the better for having experienced it. We learn from our shortcomings as much as we do our victories.
My point is that there’s no clear-cut, detailed job description of a doctor; there are, in fact, many facets to the profession. Some of these roles are more pronounced than others depending on the situation, and perhaps on the physicians themselves, but I believe doctors are in the unique position of fulfilling the roles of more than one job throughout their lives, or even in the span of a single office visit. Ours is a versatile profession, and at times, it is this versatility that contributes to doctors feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, or disillusioned with the decision to enter the medical field in the first place.
The phenomenon of burnout can happen suddenly in a moment of immense stress, or it can eat away at a person’s stamina gradually until there’s little memory of why they chose this profession in the first place. I’ve seen kids demonstrate unshakable energy when they set their hearts and minds on protecting something in which they believe, and I think we could use a little more child-like spirit when facing obstacles in our “adult” lives. Maybe we just need a moment to recall and reflect on our answers – our dreams, passions, and goals – the last time we considered the question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”
Written by Afolabi Demilade 200 level Dentistry student, University of Ibadan.
When I Grow Up…