Last year, I read this article from CBC about the huge rural-doctor shortage here in Saskatchewan (don’t ask me why it’s in the Manitoba section). A couple months later, I was invited to a showing of Triage, about the head of Doctors without Borders. And recently, I had a long chat with a couple of my classmates about the significance of their medical travels to Africa.
These all painted a picture of a certain kind of doctor, one that I’ll never be. The message I get is that truly good doctors are that minority who are determined to raise their families in the kind of town that still has a general store and probably a horse tie-up, or to sail across to Africa (à la Livingstone) for a month or two every year. It’s not explicit, and it’s certainly not intentional, but the adulation this image receives has the side-effect of diminishing all other options.
The result is that I feel guilty. Some days I look at my adventurous peers and feel like I’m already squandering my career, a year before it’s even begun. Why can’t I have that sort of selfless energy? Why can’t I carve chunks out of my life to set afloat across the Atlantic? I know I’m not alone in being frustrated by my inability to answer these questions. Worse yet, sometimes I realise I’m casting my self-doubt outward, trying to feel better by criticising the people who take their lives in that direction. I’m the first to admit that my secret accusations are unfounded: it’s hardly likely that their real motives are glory-seeking or wanderlust.
That is, they don’t deserve criticism. However—and this is vital—neither do people who take the road more travelled by. To say that we too are “following our hearts” is trite and not quite accurate, but we are following something. Just as patients deserve care, no matter where they live or how they spend their lives, doctors deserve to pick their own path to satisfaction. It isn’t selfish, no matter how often I look in the mirror and worry that it is. The face I see is that of a student who knows that he is going to make his chosen corner of the world, near or far, a little better. And it’s not just my face I see.
I am a History student and tea-drinker in my final year of clerkship at the University of Saskatchewan. Once free to roam the professional world, I hope to teach and to work in palliative and hospice medicine