“Would you want one of your children to be a doctor?” That was a question I asked Jillian Horton last night when I attended the Winnipeg Free Press online book club. We were talking about Jillian’s book We Are All Perfectly Fine. It tells the story of Jillian’s medical career and raises serious questions about the demands we make on doctors.
In her book we read about how Jillian attended a retreat for doctors in New York, at a point in her career when she was feeling really burned out. Over the course of the retreat, Jillian along with the other doctors in attendance, opened up about the guilt and grief and fear they felt about not always meeting their patients’ needs and not always meeting their own expectations of themselves.
Dr. Horton who is a professor of internal medicine at the University of Manitoba says the current medical system fails doctors. Doctors need to experience compassion just like everyone else and they must take care of themselves if they want to be effective in helping their patients. Being a doctor is an emotional job and doctors need to be able to face those emotions and deal with them. Of course the pandemic has only exacerbated the emotional stress on doctors.
So given all the problems and challenges Jillian sees in the medical profession I wondered if she would want one of her sons to be a doctor.
She told me many doctors discourage their children from entering the profession. She wouldn’t necessarily do that but she would want to be very sure her child was passionate and committed to the field of medicine and she would certainly warn them about the pitfalls and perils of the profession.
I grew up the child of a rural family doctor and the demands on my Dad were incredible. He was on call seven days a week. Often we didn’t see him for days. He was off to the hospital to do surgery before we woke up in the morning, frequently missed supper because his office hours ran late and he got up during the night to make house calls. The only place we knew Dad wouldn’t get called away because of a medical emergency was at our cottage at Moose Lake because there wasn’t a phone there.
I think watching how hard my Dad worked and the sacrifices he had to make in regards to our family life in order to fulfill his professional commitments probably influenced his four children in making the decision not to become doctors. I know Dad was highly respected and appreciated as a physician. At least on the surface he seemed to deal with the emotional aspects of the job, but it definitely impacted our family’s life.
I found Dr. Jillian Horton’s book interesting and eye-opening. I think those who read it will come to a greater understanding of the stresses faced by physicians and their families and will gain a greater appreciation for the work they do.
Note: Last night Jillian referred to a piece she wrote in the Los Angeles Times about how actor Alan Alda and the series MASH taught her the value of humour in medical practice. It is well worth the read.