Things most people don’t know about MDs
After graduation from high school, it takes an average of 13 years of further education (two to four years of college, five years of medicine proper, anywhere from three to six years of residency, at least one year of fellowship) before we can call ourselves full-fledged, practicing medical specialists. In between each part of our training, we are required to pass board exams that are especially designed to weed out the weak and test the limits of the strongest.
Starting in our fourth year of medicine proper, through the rest of our years in training, we are required to be in the hospital all day every day, and to go on night duty twice a week. Going on duty means going to work at seven or eight in the morning, and staying there until seven or eight the next evening. After a few days, the process is repeated.
In the hospital, our tasks include, but are not limited to: interviewing and examining patients, writing on charts, reading up on our cases, racking our brain for the correct diagnoses and best possible treatments, monitoring each of our patients anywhere from every 15 minutes to every four hours (taking the blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, temperature, and anything else deemed necessary), extracting blood, inserting IV cannulas, doing scut work, reassuring and/or comforting relatives, accomplishing paperwork, and answering to our seniors. As we go higher up in rank, these tasks progress to more specialized ones which, depending on our field of training, may include performing surgery, interpreting CT scans and MRIs, using various instruments to look through almost any kind of hole you can imagine in the body, etc.
We spend much more time in the hospital than out of it, and when we’re out of it, we’re usually knocked out sleeping. Most of us find our life partners, closest friends, and, for some, even their ultimate nemeses, in these same halls.
We start getting salaried only during residency (on our 10th year of training, if you count from the beginning of college), and even then, we don’t get much. For most of us, the salary is just enough to pay for a small room, fare or gas, our daily meals, our cellphone bills, our limitless textbooks, and a few small splurges (like a dinner out or a new pair of shoes).
During our training, we are exempted from any form of overtime pay. Our monthly salary is fixed, and any number of hours we put in above what’s dictated by law is charged to learning.
Professional fees don’t come into the picture until we’ve completely finished our training and have moved on to private practice, which, as mentioned, happens after around 13 years, and for many doctors, the professional fee for consultation is just about the same price as a haircut from an average salon. For a good number of patients, the fee is waived altogether—for being a hospital employee, a friend, an old classmate, kamaganak ni ganito (somebody’s relative), pakiusap ni ganon (someone’s special request), etc. One is pushed to wonder why many people seem to think doctors pick money from trees!
We are committed to a lifetime of studying. In medicine, one can never know enough. There are just too many diseases, too many drugs, and too many issues for one person to remember all at the same time. To add to that, numerous new illnesses, modalities and treatment options are discovered every day. Most of what we learned at the beginning of our training probably wouldn’t apply 10 years henceforth. There’s just no escaping our books or, in this age, our iPads.
We have a difficult time avoiding the use of medical jargon in everyday conversations. In line with this, we also have our own medical jokes and humor, most of which truthfully sound very funny to us, but probably seem strange to other people.
We get excited at the thought of new medical gadgets and equipment. Trust me: A brand-new, top-of-the-line, branded stethoscope brings as much joy and giddiness to a medical student as the latest-release smartphone, and trying out a new, high-tech ultrasound machine is about equivalent to taking a car out for a test drive.
Delayed gratification is the name of our game. Chances are, most of us will easily ace the marshmallow test. With everything that we have to go through, we inevitably put our normal lives on hold to attach a comma and those two coveted letters to the end of our names (i.e., name, MD).
We’re not here to rake in money. I’m quite sure I speak for a great majority of doctors when I say that we didn’t come into this profession in the hope of getting rich. It isn’t logical for one to go through all those years of training without
commensurate compensation—literally shedding blood, sweat and tears—if the goal is just to earn.
Of course, just like everyone else, we’d like to have enough money to live comfortably and support our family, but we knew right from the start that getting that “MD” wasn’t exactly going to do much for our bank accounts. Anyone who initially thought otherwise most probably got disappointed and quit or got weeded out along the way.
Sometimes, we get pushed to the limit. We carry an enormous responsibility on our shoulders, and there are moments when it feels too heavy. We get stressed, we make mistakes, we succumb to our human emotions and needs. It takes an equally enormous amount of combined determination and passion to keep us going.
It all boils down to our purpose. Most of us really just want to make a difference. At the end of each long day, there’s just one question we need to answer, and that’s whether we helped save a life, or not. And as long as we keep saying yes to that, we know we’re on the right track.
Ma. Regina Morabe, MD, 26, is a second-year resident of radiology at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute.
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