To being a smug medical trainee


To follow-up an earlier entry, I came across the following text posted by a colleague on Facebook. This is exactly the kind of narcissistic, megalomaniac drivel that is far too pervasive in our field. I answered with a scathing rebuttal (below).

From “To Being Doctors-To-Be”

We who were always overachievers. Who missed the dusk of our adolescence solving multiple-choice questions.

We who began our adult lives spending alternate days with corpses. Who carry bones in our bags and books that break our backs. Who spend the prime of our youth in the grime of wards. Who have already witnessed a lifetime’s share of deaths. Who learn about depression but fail to recognise it in ourselves.

We who have no definite college hours. Who don white coats even in the heat of May. Who are accustomed to the deadweight of stethoscopes around our necks. Who will pursue likely teachers for a lesson even into the night.

We who also study law, sociology, psychology, entomology, nutrition, sanitation and statistics. Who are always between exams. Who neglect the pursuit of our other passions. Who sometimes cancel our own vacations. Who covet amphetamines.

We who touch people slathered with stools, slime and psoriasis. Who have been sprayed by every infective fluid. Who are protected from a life with HIV by the flimsy rubber of gloves. Who tempt its prolonged death every time we draw blood. Who laugh off our chances of contracting tuberculosis. Who know batchmates who have.

We who study for four-and-a-half years but intern as peons. Who graduate after our peers have finished postgraduation. Who are the last to earn first salaries. Whose parents must support us well into our twenties. Whose futures are thwarted by the government every step of the way.

We who sacrifice weekends to classes that propel us towards specialisation. Who must compete with each other for expertise you desperately need. Who will slog for years to earn the letters you look for suffixing our names.

We whose friends have designated us perpetually busy. Whose presence at family functions is always greeted with surprise. Who are sick of the question, ‘what are you going to specialise in?’

We who have befriended no non-medical person since our course began. Who are no longer with our loves from before it did. Who date each other and discuss medicine. Who will advise you to procreate before thirty but who marry after it.

We who trawl PlayStore for medical apps. Who have spent more on medical manuals than meals and movies combined. Who believe that the real problem is unregulated fertility. Who associate the first rains with malaria. Who are disillusioned by the fact that there is no health without wealth.

We who are hunted and haunted by questions that have no answers. Who feel guilty when we know less than we should. Who fear that we will never be good enough.

We who cannot round off numbers. Who are forbidden shortcuts. Who are not allowed to be judgemental. Who must help even the dregs of society.

We who cannot ever abandon logic. Who are rational but must allow for prejudices. Who have no choice but to listen.

We who will never tell you any of this.

We who really need to step back and appreciate ourselves.

My Rebuttal

We who were born into the most advantageous social class of the most advantageous society.

We who had immense support propelling us through every step of life.

We who feel entitled to all the spoils of life because we work hard.

We who temporarily don the mask of altruism while applying for medical school and then immediately start campaigning for the specialties of highest compensation and prestige.

We who lament having to care for “people slathered with stools, slime and psoriasis” but have no concept of what it’s like to be those people. Who have no concept of what experiences those people endured to end up in that state.

We who thrive on self-pity.

We who have a calling to improve the health of our communities, but groan and protest learning about the fundamental social determinants of health.

We who spend more time on the wards trying to ingratiate ourselves to the ones above us and secure our status from the ones below then we do at the bedside.

We who forget that our job is to serve.


5 thoughts on “To being a smug medical trainee

  1. I came to the site to comment on something you did prior only to see this gem. Well fucking put.Secondly, if the record shows anything your classmate who submitted that piece of writing might be an unmitigated loser… I don't often talk medicine outside of medicine. It's not *that* interesting

  2. Well written Nick!! A treat to read. I sure do love when arrogant, self righteous people are made to look stupid – because for lack of a better word, that's exactly what they are! I felt a sense of relation to both sides of this post, (even though I'm just a dumpy nurse, lol), and am reminded by your side to remember my fortunes and to always try to remain humble. The people who deserve the respect, the recognition, and the praise are the ones in the bed, not the ones at the bedside.

  3. Fair enough Ash. I think under-valued nurses who do the majority of the unpleasant tasks could make an argument, but it's still necessary to be introspective about the forces holding you up. Even when hookers are yelling at you.

  4. I am approaching this as an onlooker who can appreciate both sides. I humbly respect the work that doctors do because I have witnessed how much it requires to even get in to that white coat — to compile a strong resume with years of dedication, to navigate through a ridiculous interview process, to study endlessly in order to master every twist and turn of the human body and all that can go wrong with it, to face demanding supervisors and skeptical patients while kneeling on the humblest end of the hierarchy, and to hone your craft so that you can better serve society. I admire these actions and characteristics in my boyfriend, friends, and colleagues. I have the privilege of knowing very humble professionals with a stethoscope around their necks for the right reasons, who I hope will be at my bedside when I need it.I think the key is that it is up to people like me to recognize this dedication and skill. It is ok for me to say this aloud. It is important that doctors feel appreciated and remind themselves that they are doing special work. The problem is when they step into the hospital that day with the mantra NJCB shared from his colleague going through their heads. Feeling like martyrs who have been cursed with intelligence and sentenced to a hell that features public service. They all had a choice. They did all they could to get into med school, and then chose their specialties knowing what the schedules and duties entailed. They are also not the only people who gave up Saturday nights in their 20's to study. To lug around heavy books. To work long hours and feel a nagging depression because work has cast a shadow over relationships and recreation. There are so many other occupations that suck these high points out of a person's life. I had a long conversation last week with an immigrant who drove a taxi through the night to support his large family, dealing with racist remarks from drunk Canadians in his back seat when nighttime set in. This man gave up his sleep, family time, and happiness, yet had no words of complaint. Nurses can write their own lamenting soliloquies like the one above. NJCB highlighted that it is a privilege. A privilege to make the independent choice to try to enter medicine and to succeed in doing so. And it is the "dregs of society" that deserve the most support, as it is society that has played a role in their landing in that state. I'm sure that's what the writer babbled about in order to suck up during his entrance interview.So, to make sure I'm clear, I think health care professionals make significant sacrifices and I respect them wholeheartedly. Thankfully doctors are well-paid and well-respected, which sadly cannot be said for countless other hardworking employees.

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