When I went to Medical school, I sacrificed in ways I did not appreciate until later.
I gave up time with loved ones who didn’t always understand my commitment to learning. Friendships suffered, some irreparably.
I lost pieces of my spirit to the angry staff doctors who clearly had no interest in teaching, who used their power to bully and mistreat learners. Only now can I appreciate that their behaviour was a sign of how broken they were.
There was the surgeon who yelled at and demeaned everyone in the OR. When I failed his first-day anatomy pop quiz, he effectively ignored me for the remainder of my four weeks rotation. I’d pre-round at 5am so that I’d be ready for whenever he showed up, and they nurses stood watch to alert me when he arrived, because he couldn’t even be bothers to collect me or page me. At least in his ignoring I was never a target of the vitriol the nurses experienced. Small blessings?
I recall being hard on myself for not standing up to him. Yet I had such imposter syndrome I worried that raising my concerns with the program would somehow result with me being expelled. I spent four years of medical school waiting for that other shoe to drop.
Stopping the cycle
Nowadays I still hear stories of harassment from my medical students and residents. Frequently I can see the injuries of those experiences in their eyes and reactions, especially when I’m giving them feedback and coaching. I see in them my own experience of wanting to become invisible, not sticking out or being noticed for worry it would bring further, negative attention to my student file.
At our first shift together I tell them I will never harass or humiliate them. It’s their job to learn and mine to teach and ensure a safe learning environment.
In my coaching practice, I talk a lot with physicians about why we became doctors in the first place, the calling to help our communities and, frequently, to do better than we’ve seen other providers do, whether caring for family members or those who we observed while we were training.
Through this all I’ve come to terms with the fact that sacrifice is a necessary part of the calling becoming a doctor.
Marcus Greatheart MD MSW is a family physician and social worker in Vancouver, BC. His latest publication Be the Doctor You Always Wanted to Be: A Workbook for Inspiring Physicians will be published in December 2021 by Ethica Press.