The Truth About Being A Doctor

One of the first things people will ask you in any social circumstance – whether you meet for the first time (online or in real life), your accidental seat buddy aboard a long-distance flight, your potential in-laws, your hairdresser – literally almost anyone you encounter – is WHAT DO YOU DO FOR A LIVING? Obviously, that is one of THE most important things about you; something that characterizes you; something that yes, LABELS you – because God knows, the human race just LOVES to label!

What do you do for a living sign

People’s reactions will differ depending on their own professions and social status, but also in respect to WHAT IT MEANS TO THEM. Seriously, your hairdresser couldn’t care less about what you do for a living as long as you can pay for your haircut; and the person beside you on the plane is probably just interested in a “good” and interesting conversation with great stories to pass the time, so they will be hoping you are a cop rather than a plumber. But your girfriend’s or boyfriend’s parents? To them it will really matter what you do because after all, you might be ending up at the altar with their kid and become a parent to their future grandkids.

At any rate, you can be damn sure and certain that most people will judge you by many standards – your clothes, your looks, your hair, your car etc – but one of the things that will really determine your “rank” on the social ladder is your job.

When you think about it – how sad is that really? How full of preconceived notions are we, how prejudiced, how full of bullshit that ANY ONE OF US would rather see our kid date a lawyer than a construction worker, a nurse rather than a stripper –  NO MATTER how decent the guy/girl is? Frankly, it sucks. We have learned and been taught that social rank means more than being a good, kind, reliable, decent human being.

I will tell you, though, that it’s not funny being on the other side either. So let me tell you a bit about that. As you will know if you are a regular on my site – I am a doctor. A surgeon, to be exact. Being a doctor will always – and I do mean always – get you a proper social ranking. People may not know ANYTHING about you – you could be a serial killer or a Republican 😉 – but as soon as you say the magic words “I am a doctor” they will give you the look. What look? The look of approval and respect. The “oh wow, oh really, good for you!” look. Then, inevitably, the next question: what kind of a doctor are you? That one is tricky. No one is really crazy about sitting beside a pathologist who handles dead bodies or an infectiologist who deals with worms and germs. But you can never, ever go wrong with “I am a surgeon”. And up the ladder you climb until you can actually ring the golden bell right at the top. Don’t get me wrong – I love that being a surgeon opens doors for me. Just as much as I hate it when people oohh and ahhhh because I am a surgeon if thats the only goddamn thing they know about me.Trust me I am a surgeon

I will be honest with you people. I have no earthly clue what kind of superhero demigod image people have in their heads or whether they actually think of all the years of school and university and residency you had to put in to actually become what you are – and therefore they are in awe. What I do know, though, is that most everyone I know (unless they work in the medical field themselves or know someone really well who does) has a completely wrong picture in their heads of what it is like to be a doctor. To be a surgeon.

Let me get something off my chest first before I blow your minds and destroy your fantasies 😉 – I love being a doctor. I love to help people, I crave solving the puzzles of disease and diagnosis, it’s awesome to be “in the zone”, at the table, all sterile, with your thoughts completely focused, holding out hand saying “knife” or “ten blade” or “scalpel” and actually cutting into human flesh, completely trusting your own abilities to cut, help and heal. And it is the absolute best feeling in the world when you know you have helped make a life better or you have even saved a life. It doesn’t get much better than that, folks. But those moments? Are rare. A surgeon’s, a doctor’s life isn’t all glory; its more all guts.

Here is the truth: being a surgeon means that more often than not you are too tired or too exhausted to actually enjoy being a surgeon. You go to school busting your ass to get good grades, excellent grades, so that you can go to medical school. Medical school will cost you an arm and a leg no matter where you are in the world; maybe you have rich parents or you have a scholarship or maybe you work 5, 6, 7 different jobs at the same time to be able to put yourself through school like I did. Don’t get me wrong – I loved med school. I loved hanging out with my study budies, I loved to learn about the human body, I loved to understand a little more every day how it all works; but those were also years in which I hardly slept, worked many nights, studied until I broke down in tears from exhaustion. Then finally, finally you are a doctor. OMG I will never in my life forget the feeling after my last exam when my professors came out after discussing my performance and they all shook my hand saying “congratulations, DOCTOR.” I felt on top of the world! A month later I was in my surgical internship – where 36 hours on, 12 hours off wasn’t the exception but the rule; you learned to live, breathe and be “the hospital”. And all of a sudden there is no more time or stamina for anything but this: becoming a surgeon. Internship and residency are tough. Really tough. You are in constant competition with your peers to get your surgeries; you work long hours; you are on your feet all day, all night; everyday you end up with different bodily fluids on you; you get thrown up on, bled on, peed on, pooped on. You learn to eat anything remotely edible running from the ER to the OR; you get introduced to the fact that as a doctor you may not feel disgusted; you may not think something or someone is too gross to touch.

I remember being on nightshift as a 3rd year resident when the ambulance brought in a homeless man, unconscious but breathing, and once he was transferred to an ER cot I could see something strange moving under his pant leg. I cut it open and looked at what must have been thousands of maggots happily feeding on his rotten flesh. One nurse screamed, another passed out – the surgical resident doesn’t have that luxury. You get to remove all one thousand and one maggot just so you can see whats hiding under them……and treat it. Seriously, though. I have lost lives, I have saved them. I have doubted myself, I have felt like I own the world. Being a doctor is about helping others and yet it is one of the most anti-social professions that you could choose. You will miss family reunions, birthdays, parties – because you are ON CALL. You will bail out on social engagements, dinners, movies, ball games because you are too freaking tired after the so many-eth night shift in a row. In your “free” time you can only think of one thing you really, really want to do: sleep. You get cranky and pale and relationships go down the drain a mile a minute. And then, miraculously, residency is over and …. things will get better 😉

‘Whew! Five surgeries in one day! Well, let’s try to make this last one end on a happy note!’

Better, but nothing like the “glory” most people connect you with. Having peoples’ lives in your hands day in day out never gets to be routine and you are always under pressure. Of course, you also always feel guilty toward your spouse, your kids, your friends because you never have enough time, because you miss soccer games and rehearsals and because when you are home, more often than not you are tired and cranky.

Being a doctor is a calling. It is not a “dream job”. And when you eventually get to a point where you earn a decent salary (and have paid off your student loans!) you actually do deserve every single cent.

The truth about being a doctor? It is one of the most gratifying professions that one can choose AND it is tied to a hell of a lot of sacrifices that you and the ones closest to you will have to make along the way. Is it worth it? In moments when I come out of the OR after many hours on my feet without peeing or drinking or eating or do so much as scratch my itchy nose but knowing I saved a life? Oh yeah, its worth it. Or when my son proudly proclaims to everyone waiting at the ER when he needed his arm get checked out after a trampoline fall: MY mom cuts people open! Yes, its worth it. And then, at moments when I am not the best spouse or mother or friend that I could be just because I am too tired to move my ass, no, its not worth it.  Would I choose to become a doctor again if I had that choice again? Absolutely. Because at the end of the day when someone asks me: So, what do YOU do for a living? And I can answer: I am a doctor – I feel proud. And it feels right.

Finally, I would love to hear about your professions – what people think of them, how they react and what the pro’s and con’s are! Please engage in comments below. Thanks!


14 thoughts on “The Truth About Being A Doctor”

  1. You are amazing that you still have time to build your website. I owe my life from the surgeons team in 2016 when the team was doing the surgery successfully. I admire how the doctors stay at the hospital and spend their time with the patients more than with their familly. Keep your health in order you can help more people. Best regard.

    1. Melani,
      so great to hear that you have had successful surgery and doing well I assume?! I go about this website as I go about any great passion of mine (including my work) – I believe that there is a time for everything in life and you will wake up one morning and just know that the time is here, is now, is just right! And if that happens to be in a Phase in your life when you don’t actually HAVE the time – I firmly believe that you have to make it! Don’t just “think” – do! ANd I completely agree that keeping one’s own health in check is very important 🙂
      All the best to you and thanks for a great comment!

  2. Deb, this is great. I have a friend who went through all the same things to become a damn good doctor as well. She struggled through blood, sweat, and tears to be an amazing Cardiologist and loves it. I completely relate to people stereotyping me based on “What I do”. I have gone through my life being an Entrepreneur and trying to create a business that allows me to follow my passions and create some stability. The catch, however, is that when people ask me that question I have to answer with things like, a waiter, working retail, self-employed, a teacher, and the list goes on. Immediately people put me in a category, and usually it’s one I don’t really fit into. If I really answered “What I do” as opposed to what my job or profession is I would answer, I’ve traveled to 30 countries, studied 5 languages, ran a travel company, live for the moment, spent two years in Japan, circumnavigated the globe on a boat, and continue to strive to better myself and follow my passions each day. Thanks a lot for posting this. It spoke to me.

    1. Hey Devon –
      your’s sounds like a very interesting, full life that gives you a sense of fullfilment and happiness! You won’t ever be able to bring people not to categorize – after all, this is how our society works and the superficial nature I’m afraid is second nature to so many; what you can, however, do is to NOT LET THAT GET TO YOU. You have accomplished things that are important to YOU – whether or not “society” puts a “worth it” sticker on that – who cares? This is your life, you have only one (that you know of at least ;-)) and I love your sentiment that you strive every day to better yourself and follow your passions! I would really love to hear more about your journeys if you care to share 🙂

  3. nice article and very true how people do ask the question what do you do for a living, it is sad we judge others by the things we do in our life. Many people judge and look down at you when you have bad unhealthy habits, I am guilty of this myself smoking and drugs is really a biggie for me.

    1. Hey Jeffrey,

      thank you so much for your comment! You are right I think that peoples’ judgement of other people isn’t limited to others’ jobs but to everything about that person, really; and yes, many do tend to look down on you when you have unhealthy habits. I wonder why that is; maybe it is just human nature, or maybe deep inside of us there is a little something or someone that actually feels better when we can look down on others – because it lifts us a little higher on that social pedestal ourselves. A sad thought, really, but one looking into! I think I may write a post about it 🙂 Thank you so much for the inspiration! I would really like to hear from you again and in the meantime wish you the best of luck


  4. As a firefighter I get this a lot. But the more I’ve traveled the more I’ve found that so many other areas of the world don’t define themselves by their job as much as Americans do. We work, work, work, so we see our job as who we are. I usually tell people that I love my job, but it’s not who I am. It pays the bills and gives me time freedom with a great schedule, but it’s only a part of who I am. I hope soon to be able to say I WAS a firefighter 🙂

    Great insight into your skillset. Keep putting people back together, doc! 🙂

    1. Eric – my first instinct in reaction to your post was – a firefighter! What a brave job! – and I really had to laugh about myself there for a minute; not because its not a great job – I am sure it is. But it is SO revealing to see that I, too, am prone to falling into that “categorizing” trap time and again 😉 Thanks for that! I do think we need to distinguish, though, between labelling someone on the grounds of what they do – or simply appreciating the work someone does for society at large. I personally really appreciate firefighters 😉 so there you have it. I am sure if I knew you I would also and foremost appreciate you as a human being with many interests and qualities and yeah, with a job, too 😉
      I agree that Amercia as a country is particularly prone to the work work work ethic but we shouldn’t forget that we also see that in a more totalitarian way in countries like China, Korea or even in European countries like Germany or the Netherlands were “work, be on time, and just be “normal” are standard values!
      Love to find out more about who you REALLY are if you like to share! In the meantime, keep on putting those fires out!

  5. Really like this post, and more importantly, your heart behind it. Doing what you’re passionate about gives you purpose and fulfillment- whether you’re a surgeon or a chef or a stay-at-home mom.
    Props to you for doing what you love, and for being able to make a positive impact on the world.

    1. Thank you for your comment! I believe you are SO right – no matter what you do, you have to be passionate about it and it should give you a sense of purpose and fulfillment! We shouldn’t ever let the “common evaluation” of social ranking douse our love for something, simply because society might not find it “worthwhile”!
      Thank you also for your wishes and the same to you!

  6. Thank you for what you do! I am a nurse, and it definitely takes a calling to do what we do. It encourages me to read this. I’m looking for a career change to stay at home mom. My husband is a teacher, so the income isn’t great. I’m fixing to give up the title (RN) and the lifestyle (from being paid good) to being momma. I believe it’ll be worth it, so I can teach my children lessons like this.

    1. Kristina!
      Thank you SO much for your comment! I congratulate you on your choices and I feel blessed to have people like you read my ramblings 🙂
      Remember that in all of your life choices – they need to feel right for YOU. I wish you the best of luck and success! I would love to hear from you again to see how things are working out 🙂

  7. I’m an audiovisual technician sometimes, but mostly when people ask what I do, I list off all of the things I do. I’m not overly fond of being judged for my job, but if you want to judge me for my hobbies, go right ahead.

    I dated a doctor a little while back. Everybody I told went ‘oooh’ and ‘aahhh’ when I told them that, so I got a bit of a glimpse into how that is. Unfortunately being a doctor didn’t make him any less of a dick and I’m sad to say dumping him was a wake-up call for me. I learned that doctors are just normal people too.

    1. LOL thanks so much for your comment! And yes, exactly my point – doctors are just “normal” people, too. They can be jerks and dickheads or Kind and good people …. what we do doesn’t determine who we are. All the best to you and may the next guy be a better one , whether he is a doctor or not! 😉

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