What is your why?

Following a recent conference on academic hospitalist medicine, I have spent a lot of time these past few weeks with learners – medical students, residents, pre-med college students – as well as community researchers who have survived various forms of gun violence. It’s no secret to anyone that I was quite severely burned out by twin epidemics these past few years, so I had serious hesitations on promoting the profession of medicine when speaking to a classroom full of aspiring pre-medical students.

I told them that one essential characteristic of medicine is curiosity: the relentless pursuit of “why?” And not just ”why is this patient sick? why does this medication work?” but “why did she die? why is he in pain? why are you sad?” and “why do you keep doing this work?”

why why why why why?

So… what is your why? For my friends and colleagues who have persisted in medicine, why? Because what I told the students, which many said they had never heard before, was that it was ok to walk away. They are bright and industrious people who can and will be satisfied with many other career options; what better time to discover those than now? It is not worth their lives and livelihoods as I have learned in knowing too many suicides, devastated marriages, dead faiths.

Post-Script: When I say “it is not worth [etc]” I mean that one should not pursue medicine at the knowing or willing expense of these things. This sounds obvious but is obviously not.



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