Mar 4, 2010

Don't Know What To Do? Become A Doctor!

My Dad came from a big family, and they have this tradition of throwing a gathering every year during Chinese New Year - which is senseless because most of the food will just go to waste - "I've already eaten so much just now..." After all the food and drinks we would usually have some games - typical gathering ala-Malaysian. During one of the chaotic moments when I was displaced to another table with my cousin, she pointed me to her 4-year old daughter and said "this is Dr. Sim! You must learn his footsteps and become a doctor when you grow up!"
"Why do you *aspire* to become a doctor?" I asked my cousin (her daughter staring blankly at both of us).
"You can make good money, and of course you get to help a lot of people," she answered straight from the textbook.
"Then I guess the fastest way is to become a politician - a good politician!" I answered with humor.

Most people still hold the notion that doctors are a noble profession with a very good income. And they save so many lives they should be celebrities in the afterworld (sounds creepy). The reality is far from different, really. But we should not blame others for the stagnation of knowledge as well.
Back in the 70's and 80's when Asia is still very short of doctors, they do earn a very good income (working in private hospitals). The desperation when one is ill compounded by miraculous healing - especially for surgery - made doctors second only to God. Back then, students with good academics are encouraged to apply for medicine, and medicine itself quickly became an elite and pinnacle profession.
But things are different now. As the Asian population exploded, quality of medical care did not follow. Cost of medical care grew out of hand with sophisticated equipments and drugs from the West but unparalleled and the already-fractious medical field - patient information are not shared, lack of inter-hospital and hospital-clinic cooperation, lack of medical knowledge in the public etc. While the amount of doctors increased, proper training and experience still lags. Patients became more demanding. Hospitals became more cost-conscious.
The long and the short of it is, doctors are no longer the glamorous robe-donning Hippocrates. Medicine is now a "service sector" - which means the customer is always right. Patients have all the rights, patients' family have all the rights, and doctors have outdated laws and an unfriendly judiciary to protect them. The long hours remained, the pay, on average, is less than a McDonalds' waiter (assuming you work with government). Work environment is primitive, risk of infections, getting cancer, tiring out, is higher than average; your average life span shortens by 10 years - that, assuming you survived the "hospital food chain" - bullied juniors, vigorous politicking, war on every step of the ladder.
So, what is good and great from the outside of the white robe isn't so from the inside.
But helping others? You say, saving lives?
The higher we attain medical knowledge, the more we appreciate how fragile the body is. Even though medicine progressed rapidly, there are still many incurable diseases - cancer being one - the number one killer worldwide. Drugs cure, but many a time they cause adverse side effects - from simple life nuisance to unspeakable death. Quality of life declines rapidly when one gets ill. These are just the iceberg's tip of the loopholes of western, or conventional medicine. We've seen many cases of what started out as purely good intention to cure transformed into endless complications the patients and their family have to bear. Needless to say the helplessness when health insurance is unavailable for the poor. Saving lives? Maybe only three out of ten. Most of the time we just delay death. Accidental mishaps happen in medicine just as frequent as car accidents or Microsoft malfunctioning.
So, if you just so happen to wonder what to do for the rest of your life, heed this - if you're for money - go become a businessman, or a politician; if you're for saving lifes - go become a scientist for cancer research or astronaut looking for a new Earth. Only if you're really interested in a life with very little life, a life of unequal sacrifice, and total dedication to human goodwill without asking for much returns - the medical profession *might* suit you, or not.