The Big Picture: Why I Write MiM

Physician/bloggers. There are a lot of them. I made a list of my favorites. Personal finance bloggers. There are probably more of them than there are personal finance books. I included my favorites on the list. And lifestyle bloggers…well you don’t need any qualifications to write about how you live your life, so there are even more of them. Their work forms a veritable Everest that I could never hope to summit.

I don’t think this is actually Everest, but it’s imposing.

So why do I think there is demand for another site for professional students, dentists, and doctors? Because even though I peruse each of those blogs, and imbibe books and podcasts galore, I still find that my best decisions come from stitching their tips together with intuition. By curating their knowledge and my experience, I believe I have something to add that will help you.

As an undergraduate, dental student, medical student, and resident, I think we have opportunities to fortify our foundations before financial, social, or individual cracks become chasms-and that information is harder to find. Another focus of this blog is creative steps to balance your life with your training. Many of my favorite physician blogs also address work/life balance, but most make the assumption that the only way to achieve said balance is with more money. I also believe that financial independence is huge. But it’s not the only piece of the puzzle. How we allocate all of our resources throughout training will impact our wellness, our relationships, and our side ventures. As I discuss elsewhere in the blog, our main resources, time and money, are both subject to arbitrage that we can leverage in big ways.

Not the whole story.

There is a personal side to the story of MiM. My father is a physician and my mother is a nurse. I resisted following them into healthcare for a long, long time. Why? Because of the glimpses I got of my dad’s life while growing up. Even in the 1990s, a golden age of medicine, he worked 70-90 hour weeks. He loves his job, and he was always there for us, but because of that, he had to put his hobbies, passions, and health on hold. Since that time, the healthcare scene became less friendly towards outside interests and a desire to spend more time traveling or with their families, and medical salaries have declined. There are no indications that any of that is going to change, unless we take the steps to craft our own careers.

I’ll illustrate that with someone else’s words. Here is a passage from a physician/blogger whose writing I really enjoy, Dr. Parks of Buckeye Surgeon. I have no reason to doubt his talent as a practitioner, and his dedication is unquestionable. Still, I hope you’ll see where the mindset of the generation ahead of us, and surgeons in particular, differs:

Once as a fourth year resident I was making rounds with Ted Saclarides, MD on the colorectal service.  We were talking about how demanding and all-encompassing our chosen field could be. The residents were grumbling and whining about how we never saw the sun that month. Sac just sort of smiled and shook his massive head. He told us he worked harder as an attending than he ever did as a resident. That he spent so much time in the hospital he had missed a few of his kid’s birthdays. It didn’t seem to bother him. He said that he was a surgeon. That this was what he had always wanted to do. He liked being busy.  He liked being in the hospital, taking care of patients. He was a surgeon, first and foremost. It was his identity.

At the time I just sort of felt sorry for him. It seemed ghastly. Missing your kid’s birthday? Defining yourself by what sort of work you did during the day? How sad and provincial— a life abridged, it seemed. Instead, I saw a future that was broad and more diverse. I had so many other interests and goals and dreams. To be a good husband. To be the sort of father I wish I had. To travel the world. To write stories, maybe even the next Great American Novel. To learn about all the millions of non-medical things I didn’t yet know. To read and think and grow as a simmering human soul. This poor middle aged sap, I thought. He has no idea what he missed.

But of course, life happens to us all. We get bogged down, thrown off course. Time has its fancy. Books we meant to read collect dust on shelves. Marriages break down. You find out that being a father is harder than you ever imagined. A few short stories get written but you realize they’re all for shit. The novel hibernates in notebooks for years, stashed in a desk drawer. But one thing doesn’t change. Every day the alarm will go off at 430am. Every day you find yourself at the hospital, making rounds, meeting patients for surgery, writing notes, dictating, rushing off to see someone in pain in the ER. Most days your efforts and exertions will be directed toward fulfilling your duties as a doctor, a surgeon. Those days will add up. In the end that’s all there is. We simply become the person who has lived the life we have had. And that’s OK. We do the best we can. There’s only so much time. We read those books at night when we’re not too tired, albeit more slowly. We know we won’t get to them all. We enjoy those moments with our families when we can. We find ways to unwind without ever completely disconnecting from the essential source of our identity. We become surgeons without even really intending to. You can’t hide from it. At some point you have to embrace it. Let it seep into you, let it be quilted into the fabric of your being. You’ll wake up one day and realize that you are indeed, first and foremost, a surgeon and you will not regret it.

It’s ironic that I would highlight this post. I love it and I hate it, because I admire the passion for his career as much as I admire the candor. None of us are smarter or more capable than Dr. Parks, and in the end, many of us will invest years of dedicated learning in hopes of reaching his stature, while helping thousands of people en route. I disagree with his assessment of marriage and parenting. True, I’m in the early stages of both (six years of marriage and so far, so good, and my kid is two and never complains), but my personal values dictate that my family comes before anything else. I may be in the minority, but if I felt like the sacrifices of my career threatened my lawfully wedded bliss, the decision to quit or redirect would be instantaneous.

Audacious title. Maybe a healthcare professional can do better?

I am concerned about the cost of a career in surgery, as well. While there are limitations based on the field you choose (and those limitations need consideration), I believe that with careful planning, ongoing awareness, and creative utilization of the tools that the digital age places at our disposal, we can be that good and blaze through the reading list, and maybe even write that Great American Novel as well. Note, of course, that Dr. Parks maintains  a successful and frequently-updated blog. He may not acknowledge it above, but he’s having his cake and eating it, too.

So there you have it. I believe that there are a lot of choices we can make in training that increase our wellness and mitigate the burden of student debt. I believe that the millennial mindset and toolbox can make us more successful and happier. I even believe that we will fix what is happening in healthcare, to some degree: our generation is already subverting the power structure by opening concierge practices, cash only options, and approaching large companies directly about offering employee healthcare without working through insurance. There are an unprecedented number of physicians achieving their work/life balance, in part due the innovation in practice models that is happening in real time. We have an unparalleled capacity to develop side hustles and even make them profitable. Each of these efforts and their impact on us needs to be documented, their successes and failures made available, so we can learn from each other. That is a tall order, and one that I know I can’t take on alone.

 

Come to think of it, that might be why no one has done it yet.

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