When I see an infant dressed as a “future doctor,” I cringe.
I’m used to helping premeds, not preemies or toddlers in surgical scrubs. How do I stage an intervention with parents of a premed baby?
I’m Dr. Pamela Wible. I run a suicide helpline—for doctors. When I ask, “When did you decide to be a doctor?” Many say grade school—some as young as two!
I used to be in awe of their inner knowing. How can a toddler (not yet potty trained) be aiming for med school?
My friend knew at three. Her dad would always point at her in her diapers and say, “There’s my doctor!” Now she’s a nurse practitioner in her forties with depression—still trying to get into med school—still seeking validation from her deceased dad—still wanting to fulfill his dream.
Parental pressure to pursue a medical career leads to depression—which may worsen as a physician.
Last year, I got this three-word email: “Please help me.” I called right back. A woman answered—with a noose around her neck. First-generation Korean American. Her parents always demanded, “Either be a doctor or pharmacist.” Her sister’s a pharmacist. So she’s the doctor (in a toxic residency). She felt her only way out was death. I talked her down. Today she’s alive—after a career change.
Both women were branded #FutureDoctors as babies. Both were nudged in subtle—and not-so-subtle ways—since birth to pursue a profession with high rates of depression and suicide.
Why do parents pressure children to go to medical school? Is this a form of child abuse by well-meaning parents who only “want the best” for their kids?
Top 10 reasons parents force babies to be doctors
1. Trophy children
Social currency and bragging rights. A physician trophy child with the best test scores means superior genes. How important is the trophy? After losing their son to suicide in med school—a family was given the option to sign a nondisclosure agreement—to never speak about their son’s death—in exchange for his diploma. They chose the diploma.
2. Proof of great parenting
A medical diploma proves mommy and daddy did everything for their kids and were the best parents ever!
3. Financial security
Babies are an investment and parents want a financial return. “We’re poor, so we’re counting on you to be a doctor or we wasted our lives.” My friend’s parents actually say this to her.
4. Parent’s dream
Family members will implant (even subconsciously) their own unfulfilled dreams in their offspring. Students have told me, “I hate medical school, but my parents want me to be a doctor.”
Some families want baby boys to have matching circumcisions, others want babies in matching professions. A sad med student from India told me she had “no choice”—everyone in her family is a doctor!
6. Playing it “safe”
Is choosing a “non-risky” career for your newborn better than letting your kid pick a job they’d love? Parents believe sending their child to train in a hospital with hundreds of doctors is the safest place on Earth—until they lose their #FutureDoctor to suicide.
7. Peer pressure
When Jewish mothers say, “my son the doctor,” other Jewish mothers—like my grandma—want the same thing. As a mama’s boy, my dad was told to be a doctor. He planned to be a sculptor and work in motion pictures—but ended up a theatrical pathologist sculpting corpses in the morgue.
8. Pinnacle of success
The doctor-as-God image makes medicine feel more like a religion than a profession. Giving birth to a #FutureDoctor must feel like birthing Jesus.
My ex has audio of his mom reading him a book: “A Trip to the Doctor” at age two. In her Brooklyn accent she pleads, “Don’t you want to be a doctor to help all the boys and girls?” He screams, “No! I don’t wanna be a doctor!” She keeps repeating her question—until he agrees.
9. Peace of mind
When your kid is well paid and can save your life in the middle of the night with the best medical care ever—you’ll have no more worries.
10. Parental love
My divorced parents are not-so-emotionally-available workaholic doctors. Both tried to talk me out of medicine, but I knew as a kid the only way to spend time with them was to tag along to work in the morgue and psychiatric hospitals (and I loved it!).
When I became a doctor, I interrogated my parents on why they became doctors. Separately (so they couldn’t cheat). Both listed the usual: help people, good money, stable job. “But why?” I pressed them for the real reason. Dad poured another glass of vodka and murmured, “So my mother would love me.” Mom got pissed before spewing out the truth, “Because I thought my mother would finally love me.”
So yep, I get really creeped out by these #FutureDoctor onesies.
My parents always told me that I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up. I found out later it was more like picking a color for your brand new Ford Model T in 1908. You could pick any color you wanted, as long as you wanted black. I was allowed to be anything I wanted to be, as long as the thing I wanted to be was a doctor. This was made clear to me in college. The argument for why I should go along with it was compelling to a scared college kid who didn’t think anyone would hire him. Go to med school, and you are guaranteed a job. Just follow the steps, and your career is all set. I am the opposite of my parents. I do not want my children doing any job in healthcare.
I relate to all the list items, except #3, because there is no way I could ever match my father’s success in the HMO world. The one about Jewish mothers talking about their doctor sons stands out.
Growing up as a Jew in USSR I was given 2 choices: doctor or engineer. Or you are considered nobody. (Weren’t too many lawyers at that time).
When I was 4yo I had a little white coat and hat with red cross. Although I’ve always wanted to dance, be in nature, grow things, it wasn’t acceptable.
Engineering was not my thing so… must become a doctor.
In med school I got so depressed, wanted to quit, stopped attending classes and my mother did all she could to stick me back into school.
In Russia we didn’t get paid much. It was more about connections that allowed access to better food, clothing, shows etc.
My mother flaunted my MD till last year and didn’t want to accept my slow transition out of medicine
She yelled at all her friends who dared not to listen to my advice
Except #10 I’ve experienced all your points
I’m beyond grateful that my sons avoided medicine
Oh Alla, what do you do now? So curious . . .
And if you remember any other childhood stories, I would love to hear how this subtle nudging seeps into daily life. The doctor outfits on kids (without informed consent) is a big one.
I can probably write a book of stories 🤪🤪
It wasn’t my choice to completely stop practicing. I did enjoy helping patients to be seen, heard and validated. Especially women. Regardless of what others opinions are about the mandatory jab, it’s against human rights and Germany was found guilty at Nuremberg trials of injecting foreign substances into humans without their consent.
For me it’s against my freedoms and letting 6 million Jews die in vain
I’m grateful to find TranscenDANCE™️and become an authorized facilitator and ambassador as a way to help process what we as medical professionals deal with on a daily basis and not “allowed “ to get help for. I see at as a “Trojan horse” to get the help without labeling it as mental health
Unfortunately, although medical facilities claim they want programs to help the well-being of their employees, they are not really ready to take action. That’s purely my experience from doing Locums in different UC centers and reaching out to my friends in hospitals and residencies
It was especially clear being on frontlines, inner city Philadephia UC centers when covid started
Nah. There was certainly gleeful support but basically I loved the science and the mystery of the human body. I was a smart kid and realized that being a doctor was one of the highest forms of achievement that I wanted.
I think you left out the most important one: immigrant syndrome. Look at the medical students today. They are almost all first generation Americans, as I am. My parents were clear from when I was in the womb that we could be either doctors or engineers. These were the only status jobs in their country of origin. Today I make the students laugh when I tell them how I broke my mothers heart because she got a psychiatrist (me) and a dentist (my sister).
I think that traditionally doctors were the most respected members of their communities and that was the opportunity that people saw when they came to the US for their children. I know that in other countries (i.e. the UK and Sweden) it is also the immigrants/immigrants’ kids who are the highest achievers academically. Also, medicine (and engineering) are HARD. Who wouldn’t want to be an English major and know that the world is going to take care of you?
I think that all immigrants have to work really hard to prove themselves (unless they are Hugh Grant in “Love Actually,” where all they need is an English accent). So their kids grow up not afraid of hard work.
None of my kids studied medicine.
I think this all sounds really weird to a regular whilte American, but for someone whose parents survived the Holocaust and then the communists, it is in my genes. I can’t speak to the Indian or Chinese or Korean experience in the same way, and of course there are a lot more of them, but I do think the fear of communism and what can you do to actually earn money is passed down through epigenetics.
Amen. Absolute truth. And being a woman from communist country especially living in rural redneck Nevada was an extra obstacle.
Being an FMG- foreign medical graduate added extra discrimination in 1993 when o was looking for residency spots. We were allowed to enter only 4 types of specialties.
And I remember being almost kicked out of presurgery doctors lounge by a nurse who without checking my badge yelled This is only for doctors so get the F..k out
NEVER, in any way! I was told I could not do it!
Not that I regret being a doctor but resonate with all of those. My mum had bad eyes and she constantly said she wanted me to be a doctor and fix her eyes. She would tell others and show off about me. My dad and mum both idealised doctors and respected them. Doctors were often leaders in our ethnic minority communities especially in Australia. They wanted their son to be respected like that. I’m an only child and really wanted to fulfil their dreams.
My parents state they aren’t pushy and “let me choose psychiatry” rather than force me to become a surgeon or ophthalmologist hahahaha.
They’re old now and they have sacrificed a lot and invested a lot into me. They are good company and very helpful to others, values I share. So I don’t regret choosing medicine and working hard to become a psychiatry doctor. There is not a day which I regret doing this. And it’s no longer an issue between us, I let them do/say what they want and I live my life independently.
So I have thought about this a lot recently when I realized I was exhausted again.
I was a sick kid in and out of the hospital. I always her my grandmother say, “she is going to be a nurse” bragging to her friends or family or ehen I thought about pursuing acting at one point she would say “Don’t you wanna be a nurse? Your cousin is a nurse”, everyone was so very proud of my cousin the nurse and I heard the story of my grandmother surviving breast cancer with the help of a doctor that she had to travel very far to see an unconventional doctor and because of that she is alive alive today. I didn’t really want to be a nurse, I wanted to cure cancer. As I was traveling around to pursue nursing at some undergraduate programs, my high school counselor said, “why not a doctor?” I had never thought of that because throughout my childhood I would pour over the Sears magazine year after year as far as long as I can remember as a child and circle and mark the pages of all the female medical uniforms and they were all nurse uniforms. I actually even got one and played with the syringe and stethoscope and nurse hat etc, but something was missing as I never felt comfortable in the uniform itself. The doctors uniforms were made for boys and I wondered why, but I kept to my role in my family and society. After my counselor said this, a light bulb went off and I used everything I had to prove that I was worthy of becoming a doctor, even though I was not a boy. In hind-sight prior to this I also joined the boys football team to prove I could do it and I wonder now the motivation for going into general surgery a male dominated medical field. I wonder now if I was trying so hard to be noticed in a group that I thought society deemed as better. After all of that, I realize now that healing is what my passion really is and the smoke and mirrors of what a “doctor” was has cleared. I do not subscribe to that rat-race anymore. With spiritual help, I was redefined by Christ, God who came as a human male (no doubt) instilling my real value as a female person without societal influence. How profound.
Wow, Pamela, I will no doubt put this in my book! There is more there regarding gender roles ect! I never wrote it down before. Feel free to share with your group I hope it helps someone.
None of those!
I wanted become a MD since my 1st visit, that I can recall, to see my MD! Before kindergarten….
Michael G. Blackmore MD FRCPC Int Med/Rheumatology
Toronto ON Canada
I was neglected by my mother and I was the superhero overachiever in the family. I have joked that, “I went to medical school to get a hug from my mother.” Sadly in many ways it isn’t a joke. I got a hug and then 2 weeks after graduation, I was so depressed. I had the feeling of “now what?”
Very well-written! My mother got a scholarship to the University of Geneva in Switzerland- then the war broke out. In England at the time it was chuckle chuckle isn’t that cute, she wants to be a doctor, so she did the patriotic thing and went to nursing school instead. She was in her element actually- nurses in those war days worked independently at a level NP’s do now- but no question I was going to fulfill her dream. Part of the reason why I didn’t go “straight through”, with a detour through biology grad school and teaching and research- I needed to find my own reason. Don’t these ideas apply to other fields and endeavours too? More the “trauma” of having parents at all. I can’t imagine NOT having some daydreams about who my kiddos were going to grow up to be…I wasn’t anywhere near as “self-created” a person as you had to be- my parents were damaged people but nowhere near as self-absorbed as yours were.
No, my parents didn’t pressure me to do anything really.
However, when I was in medical school, I had a roommate that cut his wrists because he didn’t want to do it anymore. I spent all night talking with him instead of studying for a pharmacology test we had the next day.
He told me that he was “doing it because his parents wanted him to”, and I totally didn’t understand. I made him call his mother and he did actually quit and now works for some biotechnology company in Dallas.
My mom wanted to be a doctor and she got unexpectedly pregnant with me
yes, it was expected, a bit of 1 more of 8, yet they were disappointed
with my choice of speciality. I wanted to be a teacher of field biology,
but I trained my self as a pure clinician and take and make every
opportunity to teach and to mentor my tricks of the trade.
No, I was never pressured at all to go to med school. My parents are farmers and becoming a doctor was not a part of their (or my) mindset. They simply stressed education… “Get an education. Work with your brain and not with your back… Your back will wear out before your brain will.”
Going to Med school was definitely not part of my world view. When I graduated high school, I wrote that I wanted to become a secretary. That was the limit of my aspirations at the time. My mom had been a secretary before marriage to a farmer, and so secretarial work was in the realm of possibility in my limited rural environment. I only went b/c a college friend of mine went and when I told him (I had just finished undergrad) that I didn’t like my corporate job, he said, “Go to med school.” I thought for a few seconds, then said “ok,” and the rest is herstory!
I didn’t know any doctors or anything about their lives. As farmers, we almost never went to a doctor and when I had a physical for my work permit at age 15 1/2, the doctor used a cold, round thing on my chest and back and I asked my mom afterward what that was. She said it was a stethoscope! We had a toy medical kit as kids, and I remember we did have a toy stethoscope, but I hadn’t been to a doctor from about the age of 6, so I had forgotten what a stethoscope was. I definitely did not know what I was getting myself into with med school. Medicine appeared very bizarre to me–and still does… I remember the first time I walked into the ICU as a 3rd year med student and I saw all these elderly patients zonked out with positive “O signs,” and I thought to myself, “Don’t these doctors know these patients are already nearly dead? It’s so obvious to a farm girl. Why are these patients in an ICU? We would NEVER torture farm animals or farm people by keeping them alive under torturous conditions such as this well past their “expiration date.” On a farm, you stay healthy for as long as you can, people and animals, and then you are encouraged to die quickly, once you reach the point of no return….” It is dignified, merciful, sustainable, and environmentally friendly…. Well, I learned otherwise in our present corporate medicine system run by slaves treating widgets on a medical factory assembly line…
I wasn’t pressured by my parents. In fact, my father was an endodontist and my uncle was a general dentist, but my father did not pressure me towards dentistry. ( in the early 1980s when dental clinics opened in shopping malls my father thought dentistry was on the decline and didn’t think there was a future)
It is a great article! I think it will resonate with many.
For me it was:
Playing it “safe”
Pinnacle of success
Peace of mind
My mother definitely thinks being a doctor is a financially secure job, that is well-respected.
She never told me to become a doctor outright, but she would send me non-verbal cues that being a doctor would be a great idea.
I think one time I told her busy studying as a pre-med, medical school, then as a resident, it’s hard to meet and date people, that I’m afraid I would get old and not find anyone to fall in love/ marry/ have children with before I’m too old. She said that as a doctor, I’ll have guys falling over their heels to woo me (or have mothers of the guys wanting to have them introduced to me – old-fashioned korean mother’s match making behind the scenes), lol. That didn’t happen by the way haha.
I was always a very good student, good at “studying” and getting good grades, but no strong interest in anything (other than reading fantasy books and drawing). I daydreamed about going to Arts major and becoming movie set designer, or work in Disney’s animations graphic designer, or as an illustrator but I never seriously thought I was going to ever go that route, because I was not that talented, and I thought I had to contribute to the family by finding a job that would reassure I’d be financially stable. And because I didn’t have any other dreams, and wasn’t good at much other than studying, I thought to myself I’ll keep studying until I become a doctor. Looking back, I wish I enjoyed college years more than I did – I was so focused on getting all A’s because I thought I wasn’t good enough to impress someone with my personal statement/interviews to get into medical school, so I thought at least I should impress them with my grades.
My parents came over to the United States when Korea had an economic crisis and had to start over from the bottom—sometimes working 3 jobs. Seeing them work so hard, I felt like I couldn’t “betray” them by deciding on a career that didn’t guarantee financial security (like being illustrator etc).
I remember I didn’t turn in my personal statement/medical school application until the very last day it was due, because I felt like I didn’t have the true right reason for wanting to go to medical school. I didn’t have the passion, or strong dream, just that I was good at studying, liked helping people, and wanted to become a doctor and make parents proud. I had to squeeze myself for what I thought the medical school admin would want to hear from me as a reason to become a doctor, because I still wanted to write truthfully. I remembered that my mother always had such a hard time getting good medical care due to her language barrier, doctors not wanting to use translator services because it took double the time. I think one time I thought she actually got great care was an Emergency room doctor coming in, very personable/friendly/smiling, and reassuring us that her wound was healing well, nothing to worry about. I realized then being a good doctor to a patient is all about being someone who treats them as people, and smiles, rather than actual medical diagnostic skills or treatment plans. So I wrote my personal statement around that, and how I wanted to become a doctor that my parents could go to happily. After I wrote it, it did resonate with me, so I always kept that in the back of my mind as a motivation.
Anyways, medical school happened to me, I hit the bottom rock in self-esteem – never thought I would be that low, was severely depressed – as I was surviving the training. Residency was also hard, but doable and sometimes enjoyable due to great friendship with fellow residents.
I tell my mother about the difficult time that I had during training and still do have as a doctor, but she still thinks it’s great I’m a doctor, because I have a steady income.
I have a friend who has a PhD in Neuroscience from Stanford and an MD from UCLA, practiced as a psychiatrist for several years and then quit to become a Disney animator. He worked on the Shrek movies and then moved to smaller studios… Never give up on your dreams, especially if you are meant to make art! My friend still works in the animation industry if you want me to put you in touch 😉
Oh wow! Very inspiring Eli 😍 I’m reading a number of letters from doctors who wanted to be artists but their family would not allow it. One woman (who shall remain anonymous), when asked which of these 10 applied to her, she writes:
How about every single one of them?
I really wanted to be an actress and I was actually good at it. Parents weren’t going to help me out with going to NYU at all.
That’s a pretty complete list in my book!
No, I don’t think I had any of those pressures. I did have an uncle who was a surgeon. I respected him but thought he worked too long hours. My mother was a nurse (who did not particularly like doctors). I respected her selfless dedication to helping others. I ended up in medicine after taking a year off college, trying and failing to join the carpenter’s union. (Not dexterous enough! ) I chose medicine based on being good at science and not being otherwise directionless. It did turn out to be my calling, though.
No, I was not pressured. Like you, Pamela, I came from a medical family, so perhaps I was predisposed out of familiarity/tradition, but definitely not pressured.
I suspect the smart Jewish moms now say, “my son is a software engineer”, or “my son is a hedge fund manager”.
Those circumcisions can be important, even for non-jews. Doesn’t every boy want to “look like Dad”?
Mother wanted me to be a doctor because she regretted “settling” for a career in Pharmacy
Ooooh I have heard that one before.
Do you like your chosen field/specialty?
I do! And I am happy with my life’s path. But it was a hard pill to swallow realizing how pursuaded I was by my parents once I finally completed the training
Great read and very true!
Everyone whom I have every met who was being groomed to be a physician from an early age was deeply affected by it in one way or another. I remember as early back as 1st grade with one of my little classmates: her parents (dad was orthopedic surgeon/mom was dermatologist) who was very clearly being intellectually abused. We would have this poster on the wall showing how many books each of us read throughout the year on our own by way of little gold stars, each representing a completed book. The average for each child was, say, 3-5 stars total. This girl had roughly 4-5 dozen of these gold stars racked up, a number I realized even at that very young age was not normal and could not have been purely because she enjoyed to read. Later on in school, this child turned into a cold, mean, cynical and arrogant middle-schooler who used to tease people for their stupidity and was unable to hold normal conversations.
I see this much like the toddler in tiara phenomenon: parents living out vain desires achievements unto their children and eliminating any chance for these kids to develop their own inquiry to see if medicine is actually something they want to pursue out of sheer drive/fascination. In this sense I feel very blessed…I’m the only one in the family to have a college degree, let alone MD, coming from blue collar parents/family and so I did not have this type of pressure, although mine was very much present (the savior, one who will “save” family and bring order etc.). When I have children of my own one day, I vowed that my wife and I (physician or not) will give our children a choice and a chance. I’d rather a phase of exploration where they must struggle the hardships of making their own tough decisions for what they want to do, as opposed to stripping them of any individuality and forcing this lifestyle on them; pure neglect and abuse at its finest, albeit often unintentional..just unconscious.
I definitely felt some pressure to become a physician, though it was a bit more subtle and indirect I suppose:
I came from a hard working, blue collar family. Though I always had enough food on the table and we did the best we could, I did feel (especially from my mind) this sense that I would grow up and “be something” big, partially (in my opinion) as a means of procuring financial stability. This was a sentiment that was encouraged after I had already expressed my desire to be a physician; the idea was further cultivated by my mom who was relieved by my aspirations and wanted me to follow my passion. This dream met some great resistance from my father, however. My dream to become a physician was seen as unreasonable and amounted to no more than $ signs, as he was concerned with the tuition of my my undergraduate and medical education, enough that he made several soft attempts at encouraging me to drop out of college and was able to convince my older sister of doing this exact thing a decade prior. I don’t speak with disdain as I mention my father, as he was so caught in the narrow, survival based worldview of what he grew up in, though it seriously impaired an aspect of my relationship with him. For me, becoming a physician represented breaking out of a preconditioned role of lack, insubordination and increasing levels of poverty, particularly when my father began to get emotionally sicker in his final years prior to his suicide. These early years turned me into who I am and most definitely helped mold many of my current views on ideas of physician privilege, incentivization, persistence and life purpose.
For me, none of the above applies at all. My mother couldn’t care less what I did with my life. My father wanted me to do whatever I wanted; the most important thing was to get an education. I decided at age 10 to become a surgeon, but my decision had zero to do with my mother, father, family, or anyone else.
I would assume that your family was not immigrant first-generation or impoverished . . . Is that correct?
You’re correct…no immigrant first generation nor impoverished. For what it’s worth, I was the second person in my family to complete college (father being the first).
I would say #4 applies and I went because my mom told me to apply in college. I wanted to be a midwife . In the end I am grateful but not sure if I would have chosen that path for myself…. then again…. what do we know at 21? I am still figuring a lot of it out at 47!
No open Pressure but on Graduation from Med School found out my dad always wanted to be a doctor. Now I wish he had so that I would have avoided it.
It’s not what got us into medical profession. But rather what’s is forcing some of us to leave or dislike medical profession. And that’s the corporate overtake of medicine and the regulatory strangulation of the profession at every level.
There r Cultural differences as to why someone chooses or is made to choose a profession . Economic factors in a society are also important.
Just like arranged marriages , there was element of “ arranged professions “, which is not necessarily bad.
This doesn’t apply to me. I’m not a doc. I have a PhD though..
And, I wanted to say I thought these were thought-provoking questions and good ones. Good meaning ‘healing.’ I’m so glad you are doing this work. I’m going to print this out and tell my doc. Do you have meetings on Zoom to bring all those interested, together??
YES. Every Sunday here -> Physician Peer Support Groups.
No, I wasn’t pressured. My physician father discouraged medicine, mom as the daughter and wife of a doctor did too. They were supportive when I chose this path, but they definitely encouraged me to try other things first (which I did, hence almost 10 years between undergrad and medical school)
Yes. Not my choice.
I always read your emails, as they resonate so well with me and my colleagues.
I can’t recall ever feeling pressured to be a doctor from my parents, or from anyone. My dad was an aircraft technician and my mother stayed at home to wrangle her three boys into a semblance of civilized young men. In fact, I mostly stumbled into the medical profession because I was only good at being a student, didn’t want to go to work full time, and I wasn’t talented enough to be a successful musician, a life-long avocation of mine. Plus, I’d worked doing research in a chemistry lab for a year or so before med school and found it to be pretty dreary and lonesome.
I got married ( to a great woman, who, as I’ve admitted, was way over my head in so many ways…..47 years now), and realized that I was woefully unprepared to meet the various demands of being a husband and father. But, I knew how to succeed in school, so I leveraged my sole talent into something that not only allowed me to remain a student, but to mature personally and professionally and become useful to the wider society. The impetus to become a doctor seemed to evolve along its own trajectory and matched my own, conscious or not, motivations that were no doubt supported by all my teachers, friends, family and, most importantly, my wife, who gave me unending support and encouragement throughout those grueling years of training.
I just attended my 40th med school reunion and was struck by the stories I heard of not only suicide of classmates, but substance abuse, infidelity, divorce, early death and disability from various illnesses, loss of medical licenses, and a couple who exhibited a cynical, depressive outlook toward life and medical practice and seemed burned out and unhappy, while most others seemed happy and content. I count myself among those. It was an amazing contrast.
So, this is my long-winded response to your question, which probably missed the point of why you asked it! I just wanted to give a view from a different perspective.
At any rate, keep up the great work that you do. I have referred many colleagues to your website over the years. It’s good to know you are there for us!
Yes. My father was very adamant that it would be the highlight of his life if I was a doctor. He always wanted to be a doctor but stated that because of the kids, he wasn’t able to. As children, my siblings and I were given cash rewards for straight As, nothing for anything less. My eldest sister stated she is a lawyer because she was trying to get our fathers love. Unfortunately, he was also a very jealous man, and decided to get a junk PhD from a diploma mil before I graduated medical school, sure he could be a “doctor” first, even though he never even finished a bachelor’s degree. According to the list below, I would agree with 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, and 10.
My dad always saw doctors as the ultimate. I grew up with reverence of the profession. I find it frustrating that I chose this field and believe that I love it, but I can never know if I didn’t do it for him. Either way, I’ve always loved taking care of people and have been fascinated with science, so I’m very happy with my chosen field.
my lawyer sister and I discuss often what we would’ve been. She was a top seated flutist right out of college but instead chose law. I’m a gifted performer and think of Broadway often. The sister in between us allows her children artistic leeway in everything. That sister is in charge of over a billion dollars in spending in her company. She’s also one of the most gifted artists I’ve ever seen.
When people find out what we do, they always say “wow your parents must be so proud!” But I would hope parents would be happy that their children are doing what they love. Side note, I became estranged from my father later in life, and we didn’t talk for the few years before his death from alcoholism. He was extremely abusive to us, yet we still wanted to please him.
And about being a born healer, I was a born a natural caretaker. That money I used to get from straight As? I’d buy candy and things for every person to make them happy.
Hi, Pamela, I was sick as a child and so was in hospital several times for observation. I started ” making rounds” when I was 8 years old. That’s when medicine became my mistress. There was no pressure, it was not for making money ( although that certainly has been good). I am so glad you are making suicide and the difficult pressures that we as physicians face public.
1. Trophy children
6. Playing it “safe.”
My father was a salesman.
He struggled economically his whole life. I went into medicine so I could be “independent“!
No mam. No pressure. I paid my way entirely and went on my own decision. That was 32 years ago, so things were probably different the
yes, it was expected, a bit of 1 more of 8, yet they were disappointed with my choice of speciality (Orthopaedics, always and subtly, passing comments of indication, curious to learn to grow to teach to share). I wanted to be a teacher of field biology, but I trained my self as a pure clinician and take and make every opportunity to teach and to mentor my tricks of the trade.
Pam. Number 2 for me. My father was a horrible parent and person I’m pretty sure he felt redemption for his behavior by me being a physician.
My parents never pressured me to be a physician. They were a police officer and a teacher, and they honestly had no clue what I was getting in to by trying to be in medicine. They never discouraged me but couldn’t really support me that much since they didn’t understand the process. They still don’t understand the complex and stressful life and job, but they are extremely proud of me.
Probably not helpful, but I feel like a minority – nonmedical family.
I wasn’t pressured by my family but by financial circumstances, the desire for stability. I thought about being a teacher or psychologist first. I picked medicine because I admired a doctor that I used to see and realized that I could combine my desire to help people with my academic skills to achieve more financial independence and certainty. The “helping people” part has worked ( but there is burn out from that due to the need to see a lot of pts for the practiceto make money) the financial independence is double sided. I make a good salary but the high interest and massive loans are definitely a drawback. Dedicating 10-15yrs during my teens/twenties to being educated was also a sacrifice too. I feel like I’m finally starting to “evolve” into myself and understand the importance of dedicating time to JUST ME.
11. personal pain (personal experience that you either want to fix others or yourself)
12. trauma (ace)
13. exposure to stuff most kids arent experienced with. books, photos, attitudes, ideas that are taught before yiu have the context to understand.
My experience was very different.
I was dating my high school boyfriend for many years. I knew he wasn’t the right partner and I was getting very Depressed one summer during my third year in pharmacy school .
I confided in my mom that I was unhappy with my college and career choice and specifically my boyfriend who was talking about marriage. Her recommendation was a geographical cure. She encouraged me to go my homeland and go to medical school there . It was the scariest decision since everything was in Spanish and I had immigrated to the US when I was 7 yrs old.
My mother confessed later it was to get me away from him. I was in pharmacy school at the time living in Boston. She said if “ others can do it, so can you”! After many years of struggling trying to forget him ,I agreed and it worked. She later said she always wanted to be a doctor herself but I never felt pressured. It could have been a subtle subconscious wish on her part.
I’m fortunate to say I can’t really identify with others as I never felt pressured to be a doctor. I am the middle of 7 children and I’m the only doctor in the family .
I believe that was a clever suggestion from mom and I thanked her.
It was very difficult at first to go back as an adult to study such a challenging career in the Dominican Republican due to the cultural shock , and language barrier but I’m glad I did.
I can relate to many of the foreign medical graduates experience as it was extreme difficult to navigate the system back here in the USA.
My parents and most advised me to be a social worker. I was super interested in biology and really planned to be a Physical Therapist.
Practicing CL & geriatric psychiatric medicine has been great. The government destruction of Healthcare has been really heartbreaking and soul crushing. Now, I teach the next generation of Psychiatrists. The challenge for them will be government and industry intrusion.
I am so happy to be able to stop working anytime.
#4: My father was the first in the family to finish high school. He dropped out of his PhD psychology program when he couldn’t finish his dissertation. Back then he could practice as a psychologist with just a Master’s degree. Lots of relatives still called him “Doctor.” I expect there were components in that both of pride in his success and of satisfaction in his failure. He specialized in career counseling and was unhappy.
When I was recruited for grad school in mathematics (after I, the only non math major in the room, broke the curve in Calc 3) I said no thanks and that I was going to med school. I had good reasons. But I wonder now how spontaneous those reasons were, whether they were mine or his? After all, no one takes Calc 3 for fun… except me.
NO. My parents did not ever think that I could achieve getting in and getting through medical school. My mom had a high school diploma- never went to college. My dad had a 6th grade education. The only pressure placed on me to get into and through medical school was self-imposed.
Philip Alford, MD
In our family, being a doctor was ingrained in us. As long as I can remember, since when I started school, I was told I would be a doctor. My dad has a PhD, my sister has a PhD, my brother in law is a MD. But, for me and my family it’s a status thing, a cultural thing, you are not considered successful unless you are called a “Dr.” ( I am iranian).
The only way I rebelled per se, was that I chose to go to podiatry school instead, because the residency was shorter. I didn’t want to become a doctor and my father ( who is 94 now) , till this day ( 30 years later ) does not approve of my professional choice, he introduces me as Dr. and follows it with…(well she isn’t really a “real doctor”, she was too lazy to go to real medical school)…
I dont know if this helps or not for ur survey.
My curiosity , yes science and pathophysiology, how and why of things.Marine Science was my premed , planned on Zoology but Marine Science had way more adventures with diving and nature with wonderful memories.And finally beyond medicine the growth of spirit that life is way beyond our earthly life, there is eternal life.I continuously pray for salvation of all souls. I did lose a cousin nurse to suicide he fell into drug addiction , he had a brilliant mind but lost the battle . I believe in God’s merciful love for him and for all who battle all of us with many things in our sojourn.
Quite honestly I have no clue! I think I might have been “interested” but growing up in the third world that was what high achieving kids gotta do I guess! Both parents were “doctors” in the third world but none was anything beyond mediocre honestly!
Consent is never “informed” nor “by free will”. I never been a fan of John Calvin but, in some dark days like today, I kind of feel that fool was right!
My father went to optometry school instead of medical school b/c of financial reasons. Perhaps he influenced me subconsciously but I never felt any pressure.
I decided I wanted to be a doctor in 5th grade. My dad said he would support me no matter what path my life took even if I never worked at all. His only advice was to get my first degree in something I could get a job with if I ever needed to work. Pretty sage advice! Hence, BS in med. tech.
Trophy children, proof of great parenting, and pinnacle of success definitely resonate with me.
Looking back, I realize that I felt subtle pressure from my mom’s side of the family (particularly my mom) to go to med school. I showed interest in the human body when my mom showed me a picture of the bones of the human skeleton when I was about 3, and ever since then there’s been strong encouragement from that side of the family to become a doctor. From a very young age my mom, who is a teacher, strongly emphasized the importance of academic achievement and was more than happy to satisfy my interest in learning about the human body and medicine. She’s also noted how my great grandpa always wanted to have a doctor in the family and that his dream is fulfilled through me, since I’m the first person in my family to go to med school. When I started having second thoughts about going into medicine in college (thinking about going into teaching instead), she questioned my thoughts, despite telling me that she just wanted me to be happy with my career choice. She even at one point told me that while she and my grandma thought I would be an excellent teacher, they thought teaching would be a waste of my brain power (to me implying that being a doctor would be the only way to make good use of it). Now when she tells other people about me, she brags to them that I’m a doctor, seeming to live vicariously through me. I’ve told her about my plan to make a career out of teaching medicine through music, and when I’ve mentioned that I might even leave clinical medicine at some point in my career she’s seemed to have expressed hope that I’ll change my mind about not practicing clinical medicine for my whole career. Now that I’m seeking to be true to myself and my calling in my career, I’m noticing that even though I still experience lots of love from my mom and her side of the family, I don’t feel as supported by mom in my career choices. I don’t think she ever meant to pressure me into a particular career, but I think there’s been an unconscious transfer of cultural expectations through the generations on her side of the family, since that side of the family is somewhat traditionally Chinese, and doctor is often seen as the number one career choice in traditional Chinese culture.
I now wonder why she showed you the human skeleton at age 3 . . . hmmm . . . kind of a subtle version of my ex-husband’s mom reading the children’s book to him at age 2. I think there is a lot on the subconscious realm at play and I feel I know you so much better after reading this. I do think I’d like to speak with you for a follow-up story on this topic (not this weekend) . . . for now I thank you for sharing your experience on the blog.
It is interesting how similar my story is to your ex-husband’s. I hope we can find a time to speak for a follow-up story in the near future. Thanks for the article.
1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 10. It was a comprehensive packet. Probably others on the list I can’t yet recognize.
My decision to go to medical school was the result of a compromise between my dreams and my upbringing.
My dreams got on board with the plan under conditions (“I am going to make the world a better place!”) that were impossible to meet until so far into the process, I had almost lost them.
Going to medical school for me was almost the opposite of parental pressure. My mother divorced (very unusual in 1972) and then brought up 3 kids in a “broken home”. I saw her try to run a business, getting receipts together for tax, worrying about not getting income and the UK was in recession in the 1980s when I was 13 or 14. I saw being a doctor as a job where I would never be unemployed and would never have to worry about chasing non-paying clients and that I would never have to be dependent upon her in the future. It was actually an escape for me.
Last weekend, I spoke at an Outreach event, supporting young people from non-traditional backgrounds to consider applying to medicine. I confessed that my motives weren’t about helping people, but about having enough money. I do love my job and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. But we need all sorts of people in medicine otherwise healthcare is seen as something passive that the clever people do to you… And most people would be better off doing some exercise than taking tablets for decades to prevent something that might never happen.
4, 8, maybe unconsciously 10
My mom said not infrequently that my dad’s parents only had enough money to pay for the oldest son to go to school (Wash U Med School, then VA surgeon boss guy). The first time my dad was not working his way through school was when I was a preschooler. Dad was getting his PhD at Princeton and my mom was supporting us by teaching at Princeton High School. My mom said at least a few times that my dad would have made a great doctor if he had had the opportunity.
I temporarily wanted to go to medical school at age 19 but was married and had my son that year and Mom told me that would be selfish, that I needed to make money and spend time with my son. I was divorced when he was 2. She worked on my son and got him to agree at the age of 14. I think she saw it as a way for him to be financially ok in the future, but she did take her bragging rights about both of us. I went to Med school after he went to college. He went the following year.
Also when my son was 14, my dad wrote a little contract on a card and they both signed it. The deal: if my son would become a doctor, my dad would guarantee him an income of at least $150k beginning when he was 30!! He was 33 before he finished his 7 year residency + MPH. I am thinking my dad’s estate may owe my son $150k minus whatever he made in residency for 3 years!!! Good luck getting that out of my brother…
All of this resonates with me.Still the tradition haunts me…..and my nurse moms unfulfilled dream…it still haunts me.I still feel too tender to elaborate on this.Yet this topic I want to journal about after my upcoming assessment and reply back to you a little more.
Thank you Pamela for this! appreciating your support.
I was never pressured by either of my parents to go to medical school. They were both well educated intellectual hippies. My dad was a physics PhD grad student who kind of escaped the draft by staying perpetually in grad school. He later taught math at a community college. His parents were Presbyterian Republicans. He had next to no contact with them. My mom’s father was a Dermatologist who had a nice practice in Palm Springs . “Grandpa Micky” was my primary reason for NOT CONSIDERING medical school until my mid 30’s. My impression was that being a doctor meant being grouchy, temperamental, irritable and self centered plus working all the time, being fat and old and having little to no fun. It took years for me to consider my profession to be medical. Basically, I am a social worker psychotherapist raised by educated liberals who became a mental health professional based upon being raised by a severely depressed father and an extremely anxious mother. Medical school chose me after my daughter was born when G-d literally told me one morning that I had to go to medical school. The reason is because it is my life’s purpose to relieve suffering and that the time for being a social worker only had come to an end, and that now I needed to be able to touch people not just with words and good intentions but also be able to touch their cellular machinery using biochemistry.
I still see people as being multilayered holographic beings of light, invested in a mortal coil of staggering complexity, suspended in space/time by a credible illusion we call “objective reality”. We are here to learn. My road to the MD, psychiatry residency and board certification was longer and more difficult that most because of my inherent tendency to annoy patriarchal biggots simply by showing up. Apparently, every time I open my mouth or breathe air in the same room with a PB, I emit some kind of noxious frequency that PB’s find threatening. I used to be mystified by the degree of misunderstanding, misinterpretation and mistreatment I received from PB’s throughout my medical education sentence. Now I understand that certain people unconsciously sense my automatic ability to see them for what and who they really are, not for what they demand or expect to be seen as. I see through the facade and it’s not effortful or even conscious on my part. Some people in power in medical academia find this threatening and believe my motive is to undermine them. If seeing them for who they really are somehow threatens their hold on power, then I suppose they are right, I do represent some kind of a threat. My efforts to mask this (my seeing people for who they really are whether I want to or not) have been largely unsuccessful so now my strategy is to simply avoid the power players of the medical industrial complex. I have taken my marbles and gone home. Now I serve patients only. Not faculty, not deans of student affairs and not hospital administrators. I hide my light under a bushel because it suits me at this phase of my life. My patients know who I am and what I’m about. To the larger, academic medical community, to corporate medicine and to the parasites and predators of Big Medicine, I am too small and insignificant to be visible. This keeps me safe. That will change someday when I publish and begin public speaking. But I’m still pupating at this time. My wings are still in the structural embryogenesis phase. I will know I am ready to become visible when I wake up one morning and know I am ready. Like the message I received at age 35, from G-d, one morning while nursing a baby and reading a book by Andrew Weil in my bedroom, I will know when it’s time.
No, I was never expected to do anything in particular by my parents, other than the usual things of wash dishes, clean my room and earn my own money. It was G-d who told me to go to medical school and I still believe it was G-d who showed me my path then and will show me my path going forward, even though I am largely agnostic and practically never religious.
My parents were just the educated hippies who brought into the world and gave me food and a place to live so I could raise myself. They were more like peers than parents even when I was a little kid. This is possibly why I became a psychiatrist in training at age 4, but didn’t begin to think about medical school until after my daughter was born in my mid thirties. I feel sorry for people whose parents tell them what to do. I don’t think any parents ever have the right to make those kinds of demands on their children. Parents are essentially servants of their children, not owners. People who mistake their children for employees or servants miss the opportunity to enjoy their children as cosmic teachers. Just as people who think of their cats or dogs as domestic pets miss the opportunity to experience their cat as a guru of cosmic consciousness, or their dog as a masterful zen teacher of loyalty, humility, and self sacrifice. Parents are servants of their children. Children are the bringers of an uncomfortable but necessary future.
None that apply.
Orthopedics was my calling.
I broke my wrist skate-boarding and recognized a future in treating broken bones. Wrist Fx was at 16. Prior to that I had a tibial stress fracture from cross country as a freshman (14). No regrets about the thought process or the path to becoming an orthopedic surgeon.
Did not know that medicine would be such a horrible place for an honest person.
However, no, my parents were not in the medical field and did not push me.
I chose to become a doctor so my dad and stepmom would finally love me. And my brother would accept me. It didn’t work.
No, my family never pressured me to go to medical school. My father had studied engineering and my parents thought I would probably become an engineer. That all changed when I was 12 years old and decided I should become a physician.
Thanks for your interesting article. Always welcome.
John Branch, DO
Thank goodness. Another physician just shared with me the following and it breaks my heart: “I experienced all of these things from my single mother.” I really have a deeper understanding of the plight of (and a ton of empathy for) immigrant doctors and children of immigrants. Explains a lot!
Your story breaks my heart…
My family also tried to tell me how hard and monastic a life it would be.
I grew up as did my parents in the long shadow of the following:
Great Grand mother was the first woman to graduate from the Fordham School of Pharmacy.
Her son graduated Columbia at 17 a chemist. He went on to become a psychiatrist. My grandmother who arguably saved me time and again… so clearly bright- felt so insecure she dared not go to college-my grandfather was a horrible to her in so many ways in front of the whole family.
My other grandfather – for his PhD independently of the German group, made the first working Transmission Electron Microscope in North America.
His wife got a masters and taught English Lit.
These (the microscope)people’s children all struggled with their ordinary abilities compared to this shadow. One suicided, two others alcoholics, the last a very bright girl brought into a society that still did not have open doors for women died early a probably severely depressed smoker of multiple packs per day.
I grew up feeling a duty – that I was nothing if I did not achieve both and MD as well as a PhD.
I am familiar with feeling inadequate and the imposter syndrome.
Yet with those issues still open despite years of therapy….I am delighted when I get to learn something in my day or to see that I made a difference. I believe in the work- I don’t think I could do work that I didn’t believe in.
The path through the Hoops is so littered with the broken and damaged, yet they are not seen – I am grateful that you are helping them be Seen.
I have worked the last year and a half at a prison. Just giving the patient a glass of water… can mean so much. They have a tremendous lack of being treated as human beings.
My reason for going to medical school was D, none of the above. I was born with the combined artistic and musical talents of both parents. I studied classical piano from the age of four, through sixteen. In addition, learned several instruments: classical organ, theatre organ, baritone horn, trombone and acoustic string bass. Drawing was a given, and I excelled in every medium I tried. The most impressive thing I ever did was a larger than life-size bronze of St. Anthony and Jesus, commissioned by the St Anthony Catholic Church, Columbus, Ohio. I am not a sculptor of religious themes, but the priest had purchased one of my oils while vacationing on Maui, and things progressed from there.
Dad was an Industrial Physician before it became a specialty; he worked for the E.I. duPont deNemours company at their explosives specialty plant, Pompton Lakes, NJ., in a 9-5 job, except for rare emergencies when there was an accidental explosion and he had to go in. Mom was an OB Nurse. They met while he was in med school.
When I said I was considering medicine, they were both surprised, for they had watched the trajectory of my music and art & figured I would go into either of those. Dad always told us to make our own decisions and do whatever we wanted to, so long as it was legal and kept us out of jail. Mom added “or the poor house”. They both came from hard-working, just above shirtsleeves economic levels,, and used the work ethic and skills they’d learned to teach us 1.) how to determine right from wrong based on reason and not dogma, 2.) how to identify and fight intimidation, and 3.) why, how and when to tell the boss to f-off (dad’s contribution; mom said “to say no”.
When I had career consultations with pianists and artists in NYC, they all told me, in essence “Kid, if you can do anything else, do it, because the only thing we can do is play piano or draw, and it ain’t as satisfying as it looks. Instead, use music and art as avocations.” To me, that sounded like pretty good advice. So when I had to write the “Why do I want to be a doctor” letter that accompanied my applications, I wrote that I knew I could have a career and be good at music, knew I could do the same in art, but didn’t know if I could be a doctor, and be a good one, and I’d like to find out. Sincerely yours, etc.
Northwestern U School of Medicine gave me an interview, at which that very letter was on the Dean of Admission’s blotter . . . burning a hole through his desk. Ooops! I thought. He held it up and asked if I really meant this. I said I did. “Good, he said, because we want you to find out here. Welcomed to the class of 1968.” I almost peed in my pants. I didn’t know what to say. “What do I say now,” I asked. He said “Try ‘thank you'”. Oops, I thought, “Yes, thank you,” I said. “Now what?” He arose and helped me get up–I could hardly stand–and led me to the registrar’s office. The rest of that day, I don’t remember.
I hope this helps your cause, Pam. And while I think of it, none of my classmates died from suicide during four years of school. However, there was one in the class that followed us.
With parents who had to marshall their stuff in tough times of the roaring twenties and The Depression, we were taught early on to be resourceful and responsible for our own decisions, and our own mistakes. Even now, working with adult ADHD patients, I find that most of them do not know those three basics–the sine qua non– for survival. If they did, I think that I’d be out of a job!
My parents spent a lot of time and money on music lesions for me and my two younger brothers. When I asked my dad why they did, knowing that we probably were not going into music, he said that music was our go-to-hell fund. “IF you’re ever in a job that is unbearable and you want to get out of it, you can tell the boss to go to hell and play piano in a bar somewhere for $50 a night plus tips. You won’t drive a fancy car, but you’ll eat.” Made sense to me. And I think that attitude prevails even in the work I do now. I am in charge. If I don’t want to put up with something, I won’t.
Incidentally, this work gives me the greatest sense of fulfillment I’ve ever had. I’m fortunate in that at each stage of my career, I’ve thought “it can’t get any better than this” and then it does. RIght now, it can’t get any better than this!
All the best,
Being a doctor fits for me because of all the practical reasons, and the ethical reasons. My Interests and temperament are better suited to being a doctor than an engineer or nurse (like my parents were). My mother did say she wanted me to be a doctor, and does brag about me now, I know. She also rejected us all and ran off to join a commune in the 70s. Maybe proving I was not worthless (to my mother) was part of it. There are many reasons for hard work and achievement in life. Medicine has been a very good fit for me and I feel my contribution to it here has been valuable to my patients. I feel the subspecialty of Palliative Medicine is intentionally very supportive and promotes the whole person view of patients and of medical personnel. Please Pamela recommend a switch to Hospice and Palliative Medicine as a good option for physicians who wanted to be more to their patients than time now allows.
Thank you so much for the truly valuable contributions you have made Pamela. Keep up the good work.
My parents were immigrants that worked blue-collar jobs. So not spending/saving money was ALWAYS an issue. They implied that they were working hard so that I could go to a private, religious school. And I felt pressure that after all those years of them working to pay for the tuition (to the school I never asked to go to), that I needed to become something more than them. Doctor or lawyer was always hinted at in the extended family, in order to live a comfortable life and avoid being a peon. Because of that pressure to academically succeed, when I entered college, it seemed the only path to take in order to not “waste” all those years of study and 4.0 GPA was to go into medicine, which was the most difficult, most prized, and supposedly most lucrative career path. And once I entered medical school for 4 years, what else was I supposed to do after that? It seemed I had no other option than to go to residency, and after all those years and all that debt, I then had to get a job. But I only lasted 13 years after the end of residency before I had to quite for the sake of my sanity and to safe my life from myself.
I want to mention that although I felt the indirect pressure to go into medicine, I did so with good intentions to help people. I could have gone into business, but I naively felt I didn’t want my life to be focused on money, not realizing that the medical industry is focused around that very concept.
Back to medical school: I couldn’t image spending the time and effort to go into specialty fields, so I opted for what I felt was the path of least resistance – internal medicine, which required the minimum 3 years of residency and where you didn’t need a CV packed with research, etc. Despite my AOA recognition and 2nd highest USLME Step I score in the class, I decide to “waste” my academic performance in medical school into order to minimize my exposure to the toxic training environment. Residency did not provide an escape from that toxicity, but provided more of the same. Along those same lines, I could not see myself continuing on for more years as sub-specialty fellow, so after residency I sought out a job to begin paying back my loans and begin a “real life.” There was no guidance or career placement assistance in the residency program, so I was on my own to find a position, and the largest employer who was eager to hire new grads was an HMO. At first, I thought I could find a work/life balance. I didn’t completely enjoy the work, but I also didn’t hate it, and I had time and energy to make it work out. But as the years went on there was more and more “creep” of work requirements that started to diminish quality of life. More focus was placed on metrics and patient satisfaction scores. I often felt caught between 4 masters:
1) my family – trying to be there for my young kids and not bring home the work “baggage.”
2) myself – doing what I felt was the correct thing medically and ethically (I never even consider “myself”/ my personal needs because those were the first that were abandoned. No more hanging with friends, no more hobbies, etc)
3) my patients – trying to both keep them alive and healthy, and keep them “satisfied” with prompt responses to messages, ordering what they requested, filling out forms for disability/jury duty excuses/FMLA, etc.
4) my employer – trying to reach the metric “goals” and cost saving measures that were expected from administration/”leadership”.
But no matter what I did, at least 1, if not more of those “masters” would always be negatively affected and come unhappy/angry. Every decision was a no-win/damned if you do-damned if you don’t scenario. I did 8 years as a hospitalist, but the requirements of working weekends/holidays/overnights were negatively affecting my family, so I decided to switch over to primary care clinic. That spared me the weekends/holidays/overnights, but was much more draining than hospitalist work because the sheer volume of patient care that was required, including work from home on my days off merely to keep up.
I started to think, “Is this what I’ve struggled and worked so hard and so long for? Am I going to be miserable working every day of my life until I retire or die? What’s the point? I might as well end it all here and now, and stop this madness.” The life I expected to live, based on what my family had portrayed doctors’ living to be, was nothing like the despair I was experiencing. And I felt stuck. What else was I going to do? How was I going to pay my loans? I would sometimes come home and look at the kids play structure in the back yard, and think to myself, “I could just hang myself right there on the monkey bars.” Ironically, it was the idea that I had an “out” by suicide that kept me going. I knew that if it ever got too bad, I could just end it all. But I had kids and knew this was a bad, wicked world to leave them alone in, and I couldn’t do it – not for me but for them. My father had since passed away, but my mother was still alive, and I also couldn’t do it to her either.
I was fortunate that my wife as also a physician (ob-gyn, so finances were not of the most critical concern for us. We did have a mortgage and 2 school loans, and other financial obligations, but if push came to shove, we could make it with just her income. She was supportive of my leaving my job, even though for the first time in my life, I would need to admit to failure. But my choice was either to give up all those years of sacrifice and hard work to become a physician or to continue on and risk losing my life (to myself). So, I chose to leave. By then my mother had unfortunately for her (and “fortunately for me”) developed Alzheimer’s disease and was not in a state to be troubled by the change. My in-laws, however, were not pleased, and this eventually drove a wedge between us. Since leaving, I have existed as a stay-at-home father – Not knowing what else to do with my life – Feeling embarrassed to tell people I “don’t work” – Anxiously waiting for them to tell me, “it must be nice to stay at home” – Having my wife always be able to trump any argument with, “but I’m tired from working…” Overall, I’m in a better place, but nothing like what I envisioned my life to be back when I was in grade school. For now, I can focus on getting my kids safely through high school, and hopefully provide them with some words of wisdom such that they will have a “happier” adulthood. And I am the happiest to know that none of them are interested in pursuing a career in medicine.
I have 9mo son that I hope he has a happier adulthood too! I hope you consider reaching out to Pamela and do ideal clinic course. I’m doing that right now to get out of assembly medicine that’s slowly killing me, and open my own practice. You can do so much just with telemedicine these days too, and make your own rules if you are your own boss.
No, my parents and other family members were unsupportive and actively discouraged me from applying and going to Medical School. Maybe because I am female, who the f#ck knows. I would have LOVED some emotional support and confidence boosting from my parents or anyone else. Even a “Don’t give up! You’ll be a great doctor” would have been nice. The humiliating and grueling neverending application process almost led to me dying by suicide as I became progressively more depressed because of the rejections.
Often, others are embarrassed and silent when I mention how hard it was for me to get into Med School. I would love to help others who were rejected when they were Pre-Med and who had to reapply or find a new career path.
I wouldn’t have survived Pre-Med if it weren’t for getting Psychotherapy. I had a very competent Psychologist who was kind and supportive. Once I was accepted to Medical School, I was able to recover. I was depression-free for many years, and even though my demons of worthlessness and failure still chased after me, I am able to see them for what they are and battle them successfully.
Even though I did not “enjoy” Med School once I got in, as I was much older than my Peers and they loved reminding me of it, plus I wasn’t the genius that I thought I was and really worked hard just to be slightly above average, still, my worst day in Medical School was far, far superior to my best day as a Pre-Med. That’s why I sign my emails with “Attitude of Gratitude” –I never cease being grateful for getting in (finally) to Med School.
Being a Doctor is Awesome. But it sure isn’t worth dying for. And there are a million other ways to be happy and fulfilled in life.
One of my parents was a Physician, the other three were Non-Medical, and none of them supported me, and they were all emotionally unavailable.
The way you describe crying so hard in med school–it touches me and I remember how as a Pre-Med, I cried every single day for a year, and then after that less often as I became numb to my own feelings.
I love what you have done with your life and I admire that you found a way to support others–I wish to help others as well. You speak for those who lost their voice.
Thank you for reaching out. I will say that I did feel pressured, and I think that the answer is going to be complicated and intertwined with narcissistic abuse, generational trauma, and Indian conditional parenting/love.
There’s something so incredible in breaking down a child’s ambitions. And it can be subtle. It doesn’t always look like breaking a kid’s instrument or raging at them for having dreams, and it wasn’t like that for me. When I was 10, I first wanted to be a herpetologist, and even when I was that young, my dad was worried I wasn’t thinking about my financial future. I was TEN. Then, at 12, my reported “rebellious side” revealed itself when I said I wanted to go into Classical Voice. I gave the performance of a lifetime, I stopped hearts and turned heads, I knew I could do this. And my dad once again said no. He didn’t just SAY no, no, he LECTURED no for 3 hours until my ears were bleeding and the only thing that would make my dad stop would be if I said “okay, I’ll pursue the sciences instead.” Well, even saying that didn’t stop it. He wanted to whittle me down SO much to the point of being a shell of a person with his lectures. Which there were many, not just regarding my career, but regarding other topics as well.
When my dad was young, he wanted to be a pilot. But he looked up dearly to his dad. And his dad said no, do something that makes money. So he became an accountant. And he was good at it, and he told himself all his life that he was good at it, but damn he mistreated almost everyone he worked with. He’s such an angry man. He’s so bitter and full of hate. And sometimes, when I see him watching TV and the protagonist is on the edge of a bridge, something happens in his eyes. And that’s the only way I feel connected to him.
After the age of 7, for the sake of my safety, I cut off emotional ties from my dad. He broke me with an incident, and I will never forgive his reaction. And he kept breaking me, so I kept retreating. I didn’t look up to my dad, but the heated fights that man could have with anyone and anything, I essentially became the family pacifist. And when he took turns regarding me as his golden child for a few weeks here and there, it felt good. I can’t deny that. And then he’d break me, again. I was so bitter with myself for falling into that trap. My dad would tell me when I was young, “you can major in something useful and earn a living, or you can be like your oldest brother/aunt…see how well his life turned out?” My brother is a restaurant owner, and my father believes his sister to be a freeloader. They’re lovely people, I wouldn’t trade them for the world. And he talks about them in the most disgusting tone.
I am convinced for these reasons my dad is a narcissist. I’m convinced he hates himself, and he was raised by a narcissist and he fully expects me to continue that trauma because he thinks I love him…I won’t be wasting my time with someone who takes so much out of me. If he wants to be nice to me, I will let him since my mom refuses to leave…she just runs to me instead to complain about her marriage. And my dad runs to me whenever he wants to shit-talk my mom. And no one asks for consent, they just dump. And the thing is…this sounds so familiar in Indian families. I really think there is something about this culture and its history of caste beliefs or its abandonment of peace-seeking ideologies for the colonizer’s ideology that over time has tainted this whole race to be bound to a hateful, hateful self-loathing and narcissism.
Indian parenting is funny. It’s funny to have an Indian parent. My dad paid for my piano and voice lessons so he could entertain his friends. As my brother calls it: an Indian-dad dick measuring contest. And this was not something only my family did. All Indian families I know did it. When I got into UC Berkeley, my dad was more excited to tell all his Indian friends than to just share that moment of joy with me. You could hear how he talked: finally he did it, he raised a child who wouldn’t disappoint the family. Oh, my god, she’s got brains. Maybe one of my children will get a higher education and not disappoint us all.
When it’s too painful to cry, we laugh. And there’s a joke that my brother and I had. Indian parents say, “You can be whatever you want, a doctor or an engineer!” I still think it’s funny. My brother became the engineer. So I…
I was supposed to be the doctor…
…Or I could be the family failure.
I should clarify and be slightly more specific, my dad is half-Indian, half-Pakistani born out of a marriage that was never accepted by either his maternal or paternal sides of the family. There is a lot of trauma to his story, I know. And it doesn’t change what he’s done to me.
I know a bit about Indian culture since I almost married a man from Madras. His mother was so happy when we broke it off so he could get his arranged marriage . . .
Oh the stories . . .
Oh goodness, I don’t mean any offense as it must have been a horrendous situation in the moment, but your story sounds so familiar…
A physician with physician parents (who is still having nightmares about this and has agree fro me to share) told me during residency that two Indian attendings, one is the program director and one associate program director talked to him separately, one in the early morning and one in the late night. In both meetings, he was threatened that they would terminate his residency if …. He sacrificed so much to complete this journey to honor his father so just kept going.”
My parents certainly didn’t consciously force me to become a doctor. They were both immigrant refugees and neither of them came from families with anyone who had more than a high school education.
In fact, my parents were so steeped and committed to traditional Christian based gender roles that they didn’t even pressure me to go to college, much less medical school.
My first marriage was at age 24 to a medical student. My mother’s comment was – Thank goodness! You are marrying a doctor! You’ll be fine!’
That being said, my parents were both individuals who had difficulty standing up for themselves and great difficulty seeing themselves as people who deserved to take up any space in the world.
They taught me to never rock the boat, to stay under the radar, to never cause any conflicts, never get angry, and be the first to apologize for pretty much anything.
In other words, I was well-groomed via my childhood to enter into a training system that highly valued unquestioning compliance and obedience to authority.
So, even though there was never any direct encouragement from my parents to enter medical training, my childhood experiences were an excellent prepping ground for precisely that path.
1,4,8,9,10 were the reasons I became a doctor but I also liked the caring profession and all the interesting science of the medical field. I always enjoyed science and I was always a caring person. The patients these days have no respect for doctors and we are victims of violent and rude patients. I don’t care for the patients anymore. I just show up to collect my paycheck. There’s no more enjoyment in being a doctor. We have no autonomy. Someone who knows nothing about medicine and who leaves on time everyday controls our schedule, they are called bean counters.
A few anonymous comments from physicians:
“My parents never pressured me to go to med school, but I remember my grandfather recommending medicine as a profession. He recommended it because he thought doctors had financial independence and those in private practice, at least, had job security. (But he wasn’t looking for any financial reward for himself.) He recommended it when I was 10-15 years old at the time, and I remember thinking, there was no way I would go to medical school, and deal with sick and/or bleeding people. I’m an introvert, and it sounded too difficult and challenging. But while I was in college, and rejected other alternatives, it seemed like the best option. My older brother was in medical school at the time, and I ended up applying to and going to the same medical school he was in, and we shared an apartment. My mother had died of cancer by then, and I wanted to understand disease, and help people in a similar situation to my mother.”
“My dad told me girls were too stupid to be doctors. I was a nurse for 12 years. Then became a doctor to bring primary care.”
“I knew I wanted to be a doctor by age 6. They supported me when I didn’t get into med school on first try, and my subsequent 2 years at masters program in chemistry. My parents told me and my sister that they would (and did) support us until we were done with education or got married. I skipped pre school but went 26 years. (K to 12) then 4 undergrad at private school without a loan, 2 years of grad school, 4 of med school (more $ loaned from dad than government) and 3 years of residency. They both helped in the ways they could when I was depressed. I remember mom even came to a counselor session with me in med school.”
“#1 and #2 resonate strongly.”
“All of this resonates with me.Still the tradition haunts me…..and my nurse moms unfulfilled dream…it still haunts me.I still feel too tender to elaborate on this.”
Interesting list of reasons to become a doctor.
In my case, my mom was a nocturnal surgical floor nurse. In order to spend time with her l begged her to take me to the hospital with her. When she was in her round to check on post op patients, She’d have me stay in the empty doctor’s office on her ward. The office was decorated with much nice furnitures including a beautiful oak desk and leather chair. While she was in her rounds l’d do my homework on the physician’s desk and really enjoyed the comfort of the desk and dreamed of one day becoming a doctor myself and have a nice desk and chair to work on.
Those times l was 6 years old at first grade in school and my family had a very low living standards. We did not have furniture at home and l shred my bedroom with my sister who is 1.5 years older and quite abusive to me.
So the doctor office was a safe sanctuary for me.
That’s how l made my decision to become a doctor without really knowing what does it involve or take to become one.
Here l am now 37 years later and l’d say that l’ve enjoyed the journey and had grown so much through it. Don’t have much regret and perhaps if born again would choose the same path. But will make much stronger boundaries to protect myself from the negative impacts of others while taking the journey
In my personal case I went into medical school with a sense of fate , but in a good way.
I was never told, at least I don`t recall it that way but it was something sort of expected to follow the footsteps of my father and my grandfather before him….
It was a combination of tradition and calling.
I do not regret for a minute becoming a physician.
Josè Miguel Salmeròn
They definitely loved me.
I exceeded all expectations.
I was supposed to have a humdrum life 8-5 M- F and not spend any money. Maybe get a cat? Drive a sedan?
MOM hounded me about homework etc til 11th grade where I surpassed her capabilities and she could not keep up anymore. My father stopped speaking to me for a week when I chose RPI/ALBANY med 6 yr program over a cheap state school bc MONEY RULES OVER ALL…and I was causing him to spend money “ YOU WO’t PUT US IN NURSING HOMES!” he shrieked making it clear he would not pay for it ( although he did X2 yrs college and 1 yr med school” so afterstarted moonlighting I began writing check s for 10K here 10 K there to pay back the 80 or so I owed him. They scoffed. Sort of. But took it.Pretende he never told me he would not pay for my schooling. But he did say it I guarantee you.
Bwahahaha NO. For one thing, my parents raised me to pick my paths. But in reality, I was 46 years old with five kids when I went to Med school. I was already a lawyer. My parents would have been nuts to be pressuring- or even encouraging- me to go to Med school. They did, however, support my decision. Which pretty much astonished me.
I wanted to be a doctor at age 15, but it just seemed ridiculous. I couldn’t even get to college until I was 23. But I did get accepted to med school at 27, just in time to find out I was pregnant with our first child (had been told I was infertile) and due on the first day of class. Second attempt, pregnant but would have delivered and thought we had it figured out – but our son turned out to be a special needs child. Given his long term needs, I went to law school. Practiced 10-12 years, mostly hated it and never stopped dreaming of medicine. I went to see the Dean of Admissions who basically laughed me out of his office in 30 seconds, saying I hadn’t taken a science class in 20 years (true). Told me to go prove I could still get an A in a science class. I was 43. So I went to grad school in neuroscience, had a 4.0 which I guess made him stop laughing. Started med school at 46.
I was sure of two things: I hated blood and guts, and I loved neuroscience. Planned on pediatric neurology. My third year I asked for surgery first, “to get it the hell over with.” Instead, I quickly discovered I was a surgeon. Actually did a year of family med residency first to stay at home (my daughter was getting married). Then considered general surgery but opted for OBGYN.
Practiced in the Willamette Valley for 8 years, our practice blew apart, and I took a job with the Navy. Military medicine was toxic, especially for civilians. I retired last fall. Started a fellowship in Integrative Medicine but pulled out after 5 months because of health concerns. I’ve spent 2022 being diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer at OHSU. On my last day of radiation, I came down with Covid. It’s been quite a year.
I’d love to see patients again, no surgery or OB, and was going to start a practice in the Valley. The financials just aren’t there. I am not board certified so no other options at this point, really.
Love following you. Keep up the good work!
I WAS NOT PRESSURED: I WAS FORCED. MY MD BROTHER (10 YEARS OLDER THAN I AM) FILLED THE APPLICAEION FORM. ANE FATHER DID NOT GIVE ME THE MONEY TO TAKE THE FINE ARTS ACADEMY EXAM. I ALWAYS HAVE UGLY DISCUSSIONS WITH PROFESSORS AND RESIDENTS. UNTIL BECOMING AN INTERN I WAS A C STUDENT. MY INTENSHIP EXAMS GAVE As AND INVITATIONS TO BE A RESIDENT IN THIS DEPARTMENT OR THAT DEPARTMENT. NO THANK YOU!
TO ESCAPE FROM CLINICAL WORK, I BECAME A VOLUNTER VORKER IN ANESTHESIOOGY RESEARCH. PROVING THEIR THEORY WAS WRONG, ANOTHER INVITATION TO BE FULL TIME RESEARXHERS. I STILL CRY FOR THE CATS AND DOGS I KILLED IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE.
QUITING MEDICINE AND TRYING TO BE A Ph.D. IN MEDICAL ANTHROPOLOGY. I HATED MARGERET MEAD. AGAIN, AN INVITATION TO UCSD ANTHROPOLOGY UPON ASKING A QUESTION WHICH CLARIFIED HOW WRONG WAS THE ASSUMPTION/HYOTHESIS. CHANGE SCHOOL TO SCHOOL.
FINALLY, BACK TO CLINICS AND HOSPITALS AS A QEALTH CARE AS QUALITY ASSURANCE & IMPROVEMENT MANAGER, DIRECTOR. EXPERIENCED BOTH HATRED AND LOVE. ALWAYS HAVING ARGUMENTS WITH ADMINISTRATORS. BUT CHANGING POSITIONS WITH INCREASED SALARY. THEN I QUIT MEDICINE ALTOGETHER, AND BECANE A YELLOW CAB DRIVER IN THE NYC. I LOVED NEW YORKERS, AND NEW YORKRS LOVED ME. NOT, I AM A BEDRIFFEN RETIREE. MS. NEUROMYELITIS OPTOCA AND SEVERAL OTHER AUTOIMMUNE COMFITIONS.
I NELIEVE THE STRESS OF MEDICAL STUDENT AND TO BE BOTH TYPIST AND EFITOR OF MY EX-HUSBAMD’S Ph.D. IS THE ETIO;OGY MY DIAB;ED CONDITION. I WISH I COULD GET UP AND BE A YELLOW=CAB DRIVER AGAI.
MY FATHER HAD SAID, |FIRST FINISH MEDICAL SCHOOL AND DO WHATEVER TOU WANT.” PUNISHMENT AND PRIZE.
I was actually pressured by family to NOT go to med school. I’m old enough that gender stereotypes and related concerns were common. I graduated in 1980. My parents, particularly my mother, were concerned that it would be a barrier to marriage and family. I remember an incident when my first child was several months old and we visited my parents. My mother commented that the baby and I seemed to have a close relationship. I said that it was normal – I’m his mother. She shook her head in disbelief, “but you work so much.”
Wow! I am born one year prior to your medical school graduation! What an inspiration you are to choose to go to medical school then despite all the resistance. I am curious to know if you think you would have chosen the same path then , if you had the knowledge and experiences that you have now-after more than 4 decades of living as a doctor- or would you choose differently?
Interesting list of reasons to become a doctor.
In my case, my mom was a nocturnal surgical floor nurse. In order to spend time with her, l begged her to take me to the hospital with her. When she was conducting rounds to check on post op patients, She’d leave me in the empty doctor’s office on her ward. The office was decorated with super nice furnitures including a beautiful oak desk and leather chair. While she was on rounds, l’d do my homework on the physician’s desk and really enjoyed the comfort of it while dreaming of one day becoming a doctor myself to have a nice desk and chair to work on.
Those days l was 5 years old in first grade at school. my family had a very low living standards. We did not have furniture at home and l shared my bedroom with my sister who is 1.5 years older, also a physician:) she was quite abusive to me as she didn’t receive the attention she needed from my parents neither did l.
For me the doctor office was a safe sanctuary that l didn’t want to leave! So l planned to make one for myself and worked extremely hard to get my own sanctuary only to learn that the reality of assembly corporate medicine is quite different than the fantasy of having my own beautiful safe practice serving my patients the best way.
That’s how l made my decision to become a doctor without really knowing what does it involve or take to become one.
Here l am now 38 years later and l’d say that l’ve enjoyed the journey ! I had grown so much through it. Don’t have much regret and perhaps if re-born May very well choose the same path. But will make much stronger boundaries to protect myself from the negative impacts of others while taking the journey
Much love and hugs!
Hi Pamela. I hope you’re feeling and doing well. I’m very glad you became a doctor because YOU wanted to and I did the same!! Instead of pressuring me to become a doctor, my parents repeatedly asked me WHY I wanted to be the first doctor ever in my family because THEY didn’t understand it! I was blessed to be accepted into U of Michigan’s Medical School right after graduating high school as part of their six-year Inteflex program. I was pretty sure I wanted to be a doctor, but had no role models. I wasn’t SURE I wanted to be a doctor until I spent a month with a Family Medicine doctor in Albion, MI after my first year of undergrad. We did everything, including delivering babies, making house calls and hospital rounds, seeing patients in the office and the local supermarket, etc and at the end of that month I was CERTAIN I wanted to be a doctor. I had no pressure to become a doctor, but had a family repeatedly asking me WHY I chose to do so which wasn’t very supportive, was it?
It is an interesting discussion because I can’t imagine going thru medical school and residency NOT wanting to become a physician!
If I heard it once I heard 10,000 times. “You’re smart enough, you ought to go to medical. “
I related with the trophy child, financial security, and parental love on that list. My parents wanted me to have a very high level of education and expected a lot from me. My parents didn’t go to college until I was getting my Master’s degree. They often struggled with money and that caused them to push me to go far in education so I could have a better future. My extended family was extremely superficial and competitive. My uncles were constantly looking for flaws in us to boost their self esteem with parenting. That further drove me to seeking medicine, so that I wouldn’t be the laughing stock of the family. Surprisingly, I was the first in the family to go to graduate school, and the first to go to medical school. My mom was disappointed in my choice at first, because she preferred I do naturopathic or chiropractic medicine. But she has since changed her tone and I have gained a lot of praise, encouragement and affection from my parents and extended family. Pursuing such an academically rigorous career path has led to me feeling more loved, even with some of my medical school failures and health issues. Although they will occasionally lessen my experience to boost themselves, I have gained a lot more respect and admiration.
No, my mother’s response was that she didn’t like doctors. She wanted me to be a vet, I suppose (her dream). My father thought I should be an engineer. They spent my professional life criticizing my professional choices, salary, and failure to bring home a rich husband. I heard from their friends (my patients) that they bragged on me, but they never said a kind word to my face. They cut me off financially in my first year of college, but financially supported my sisters. Life has been hard, poor, and alone. I have a son who is a research chemist. Sure, I wish medicine was a profession he felt inspired to follow, but I would never pressure his choices.
Interesting question. I did medicine as a 2nd career…my 1st degree is in International Relations. I am not a suit-wearing, sucking up to others, paper-pushing kind of person [which ironically describes what I do all day now anyway], but I like foreign languages and pick them up quickly. Then my mother (a teacher) started volunteering with the local ambulance and the ambulance crew became kind of a surrogate family, so I got roped into volunteering too and decided I liked the ambulance way better than I.R. My mother never pushed me to do medicine…or the ambulance…the other EMTs pushed me to join the ambulance, one of them so he could have political debates with me 24/7 LOL.
My father (a retired psychologist) never directly pushed me either [and in fact, got upset when I was applying to medical school, thinking I could be making so much more money as a diplomat]. However, I did grow up knowing that he had wanted to be a doctor but failed O-chem, and he always said things like: “If I were a doctor I could afford XYZ” and “only doctors can afford ABC”. But I always leaned toward rebellion, so if he had told me to become a doctor, I would have done ANYTHING else.
The first thing he said when I told him I got into medical school was: “I’m not going to pay for it”. So I zeroed my bank account and paid for the 1st semester myself. He ended up inheriting some money and paid for the rest, thankfully.
In a nutshell, maybe some unconscious pressure from dad, but none from Mom.
No. I wanted to be a doctor from a very young age. My father told me I was too stupid to be a doctor. When I signed up for science classes in high school he made me drop them in favor of typing and home ec. As a result I did not go to medical school until I was in my mid to late 30s. Little did my Dad know how much I would be typing as a doctor.
I was never pressured to go to medical school. However, once I did there is no doubt that I was viewed as a “trophy child”, which I definitely did not want. As a matter of fact, I wanted the opposite. I was seen as the hippie of the family – not caring about money, living an alternative lifestyle with a job at a camp. But I wanted a bigger mission and service field, so I became a physician. Each step of the way, my mother has asked about my exact salary, which I have never given her, and I know is simply for bragging rights. I’m glad that she is proud of me, but I wish she was just as proud of me when I worked in rural TN at a camp as she is now that I have a different title.
My older brother is a pathologist who has enjoyed his career, as both a pathologist and a researcher very much, though, at age 72, looking forward to retirement. My younger brother was a radiologist, now happily retired.
I was a dedicated primary care physician and found medicine very challenging but rewarding, as I had hundreds of loyal, long-time patients, many in their 80’s and 90’s who had been my patients for over 10 years. I found helping my patients very rewarding, but I was too empathetic. I was entrapped by a long-time patient of mine, a single mother in her 30’s, a polite and friendly, but anxious and depressed woman who lost her job and insurance, and asked me for help after she became homeless. It’s a long story, however, the crucial part is she became pregnant but insisted she was too depressed and in no condition to have a baby (raising 3 children already, with no income). I gave her a handout on her options, including adoption, but she insisted she was in no condition to have a baby, and wanted an abortion (like she had before) but couldn’t afford one. So I made the mistake of prescribing misoprostol for her (thinking she would take it at home), but then when she requested to receive it in my office, after hours, I made the mistake of trusting her and allowed her to receive it in my office (after she signed informed consent). But 3 months later, she came to my office, after hours, demanded $2200, and entrapped me. I realized she was a con artist but also realized she was determined to get the money so I paid her, with the certainty that if she complained, it would come down to her word vs.mine, when MeToo insists companies believe the woman, and my employer, a large hospital system in a red state, would almost certainly fire me and my reputation and license would be in jeopardy. So I paid her all she demanded for 4 and a half years, and then, one evening, she stopped by to tell me “I really appreciate everything you’ve done for me…. Have you thought about getting married?” I told her I couldn’t and wouldn’t, and 2 weeks later she filed a complaint with the State Medical Board, accusing me of taking advantage of her (!). My hospital group fired me but provided me with a lawyer, and I admitted that because I wanted her to like me and not file a complaint, and she wanted me to like her so she would get more money, we had an inappropriate relationship. I first went to Acumen Assessments in Lawrence KS, where the psychiatrist there told me my 35-year medical career was a “sham” because of this one complaint (the only significant complaint from any patient in my entire career). I then went to the Professional Renewal Center in Lawrence KS, on the recommendation of my lawyer, but I found they had no interest in what really happened and did no investigation, only wanted me to confess to everything this woman accused me of and take 100% of the blame. I continued to tell the truth, and passed a polygraph. However, after I paid $43,000 total, Betsy Williams, who runs PRC, said I was “overfunctioning” and “didn’t take good enough care of myself”, and since I seemed to imply that this patient was partly to blame (though I admitted I didn’t maintain boundaries, shouldn’t have given her a medical abortion and never said I blamed her), she said she wouldn’t recommend I return to practice unless I spent another 1-3 months there (and pay her another $20,000+, after spending 11 weeks there already) and then she might allow me to work in a male prison, if I promised to never work past 5:00PM, and if all of my coworkers were first informed of everything I was accused of and told to contact Betsy if I did anything “suspicious”. At that point, I gave up, and my medical license was suspended. I ended up applying for hundreds of jobs, turned down for most, finally got a job driving a semi/truck for 5 months, then worked a series of customer service jobs for several years (starting at $11/hour), now working at Anthem for $23/hr.
I felt fulfilled and respected, but also frustrated and very stressed at times, as a primary care physician. I was selected as a “Top Doctor” in Indianapolis for 5 years, and I was the doctor my colleagues asked for advice if they had a difficult case. I read all the general medical journals and was very perfectionistic. After we switched from paper charts to EMR, I worked past midnight every weeknight and worked on the weekends to transfer information from my patients’ voluminous paper charts (often 3-4 fat volumes or more) to the EMR, and tried to correct all the mistaken information placed in my patients’ charts, based on mistaken information (diagnoses) that receptionists with a high school education had entered into the computer. I typed notes to my patients with their lab results and filled out disability forms on the weekends, as well as finishing up my notes from the previous week. I also made sure all my patients received an answer to their phone call questions within 24 hours, and preferably the same day they called (usually after my medical assistant had left for the evening). The relationships with my patients, many of whom had been seeing me for over 20 years, was the most rewarding part of the job, for me. Almost all of them seemed very satisfied with and grateful for my care, and my willingness to work them in or call them back whenever they had an urgent problem or question.
After I was placed on administrative leave, I received support from 3 of my colleagues, my medical assistant, and from my wife, my children and my brothers, but no one else. It was an incredibly demoralizing and depressing experience. I felt like I had been knocked off a pedestal and thrown into the gutter. The hospital I worked for sent out a letter to my patients just saying I was gone and asking them to sign up with another doctor. One of my patients did leave a long letter of concern and appreciation for me at the front desk, to deliver to me, which I received after I got back from Kansas. I have encountered several of my former patients since then, at a library, store or funeral, and they all asked how they could see me again as a patient, and were very disappointed when I told them they can’t. I reached out to leaders in the American College of Physicians several times, but they never responded to my emails.
This patient, by the way, hired a lawyer, who sent me a letter suggesting I pay her a hundred thousand dollars or more to avoid a lawsuit. I answered, through my lawyer, that she did not deserve and I refused to pay her another penny (after already paying her over $255,000 over 4 and a half years). She later filed a lawsuit against the hospital that employed me, and me. However, she demanded her name not be listed in the lawsuit, and refused to answer questions my lawyer demanded, concerning her income and medical records, so her lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice. I should say, that over the course of the 4 and a half years she came to my office to extort money, this patient did open up to me about her sad abusive childhood, and I did empathize with her, and even cared about her. She said I was her only friend, and the only person she could depend upon. Once she called me an angel sent by God. But I realize she was a dishonest sociopath who never really trusted anyone and had a deep-seated anger toward all men.
I apologize for the length of my response and for probably oversharing. But I appreciate your care & concern.
Adding my additional comments if you feel it would be of help to other doctors and health care professionals you work with.
I am doing okay, even though I am a very sensitive person and feel humiliated, when I think about how I went from being a widely respected doctor, caring for many hundreds of patients, to feeling ostracized and treated by many people as someone of no importance, turned down for low-wage jobs I would never even have considered prior to 7 years ago, when I was fired by IU Health. Being fired from 2 jobs (as a doctor and as a semi driver (because my truck got dented)) is not good for anyone’s morale, but I try to be philosophical and think about the positive as much as possible. I read the news regularly, and know there are millions of people around the world, especially in Ukraine, Syria and Xinjiang, who are so much worse off than I am that there is no comparison. When I was feeling very depressed, after being let go by a trucking company in Minnesota, a MN taxi driver told me how he had had an intracranial bleed and cardiac arrest, was resuscitated, and took many months to recover. He was just glad to be alive. Then the taxi driver who drove me home from the bus station was an emigrant from Eritrea, who looked at my house and told me I was lucky to have a wife, 2 children, several grandchildren and live in a big house in a country at peace – and he was right. The world is unfair and I would like to make the world a better place if I can. I try to concentrate on what I can do for others, even if only Anthem customers and my grandchildren, rather than waste time complaining about my problems, when so many people have worse problems, and our country is threatened by a dishonest sociopathic demagogue who has convinced over 50 million Americans that the last presidential election was stolen.
I do appreciate your concern and your empathy! While I was a doctor, I felt like I was a part of a special club. Patients, nurses, receptionists, drug reps and health care administrators, for the most part, treated me, and my colleagues with respect and occasionally awe. I don’t think I let it go to my head – I was always too worried that I might miss a diagnosis or one of my patients would have a bad outcome. When I was fired, I was made very aware, certainly in Kansas, that I was no longer a part of that club. I would have appreciated a little empathy from someone in Kansas (I had always had a lot of empathy for my patients, in at least one case too much empathy, and I felt like I deserved a little in return), but that was not their modus operandi. When I had to show up at the Medical Board hearing, when my license was suspended (after I got home from driving a semi for a week), my lawyer told me not to say anything, as it would just make things worse. I had to stand silently as the female State Assistant Attorney General summarized the case against me (a very one-sided summation) and the Board members looked at me with disgust and discussed how much to fine me. The summary in the minutes showed they completely misunderstood what happened, summarizing the case by saying I had a sexual relationship with this patient, then gave her an abortion, which was completely false. I had to hire a different attorney to get them to finally delete those minutes. I hate to go on, but I have a lot of evidence that the state government of Indiana is, or at least was, prejudiced against me, during and after the Medical Board decision, even though I think the Board members collectively did not spend more than 5 minutes thinking about and voting on my case (one of about 40 cases they decided on in an hour and a half or so) and had a very distorted idea of what had actually happened between this patient and myself.
In any case, I feel it is probably better for me to look ahead than complain too much about the past. But I am concerned that doctors are justifiably paranoid about being sued or taken advantage of by a patient, and this is not good for patients or doctors. I would prefer that sensitive, empathetic, competent doctors be allowed to continue to see and treat patients for as long as they are motivated and knowledgeable enough to do so. I would hate to have them take the advice of the psychologists and psychiatrists in Lawrence KS, who tell their doctor-patients to never touch their patients(!), never see a patient outside of office hours, never give free care to one of your patients, and always protect yourself from your patients. (They said nothing about helping your patients or taking care of your patients, and they practiced what they preached!) If doctors cannot establish a therapeutic relationship with their patients, adherence to a treatment regimen is often poor, and the medical outcomes poor as well. If patients are convinced their doctors are only concerned about making lots of money and protecting themselves, what is the likelihood therapeutic relationships will be established? I remember, in my first week of medical school, an elderly internal medicine doctor, quoting Dr. Peabody that “the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient”. But if doctors are afraid of their patients, will they really care for them? On the other hand, if the complaint of any sociopathic patient is enough to ruin a doctor’s hard-earned career, then doctors’ paranoia will seem rational.
I should also add that I read many articles about all kinds of professionals, such as museum curators, professors, college administrators, journalists, newspaper editors and others, who do or write something that is taken out of context, attacked as racism, sexism etc. by a cyber-mob, and then disciplined or fired as a scapegoat, to deflect from systemic issues or CEO decisions, or that are a result of long-standing injustices that are much more to blame than the individual being scapegoated. I would much prefer a world in which individuals are judged fairly, after looking at the complete picture of the situation that person faced, rather than one in which CEO’s and other powerful people, to avoid legal threats and mob mentality, find some lower-level individual to scapegoat and sacrifice, to placate lawyers and internet mobs. I would also prefer a world in which political and economic issues are considered rationally and even-handedly, rather than in 30-60 second TV sound-bites and with bumper sticker logic. Apparently we, as a country, don’t have the time or patience to do that, and would rather condemn people based on a brief emotional diatribe by a celebrity instead of expending the mental energy to actually understand an issue.
Thank you again for allowing me to vent! You are the first doctor, other than a couple of my friends and my brothers, to actually listen to my story and respond with some therapeutic empathy! Almost all of the doctors I met in Kansas, who someone had complained about, seemed like good people and I believe were good doctors who, being human, had either made a mistake or made a hospital employee or competitor angry. They were no different from other doctors I knew (but less arrogant), except that their mistake or patient complaint had come to the attention of someone (sometimes a hospital administrator in competition with them) who pressured them into going to the Professional Renewal Center, after which their career was ruined. They all deserved some empathy, but didn’t find any in Kansas, except, to a variable extent, from their fellow victims. It seems like this is a need you are correctly addressing.
Widespread “bumper sticker logic” and divisiveness is the way the power structure keeps the victims (patients & doctors) divided and conquered. Also the recipe for social disintegration using pandemic fear to keep people divided and ratting each other out for having different political or medical ideologies. Zero understanding of the complexity of human beings, Zero empathy for those who feel or believe differently. I myself have been vilified for investigating doctor murder-suicides and having curiosity and empathy for all victims (including the doctor perpetrator of homicide which in the physician’s mind is often a “mercy killing.”) If we have no curiosity and remain willing to vilify anyone who is different and wrote people off as “bad eggs” we will certainly not understand the cause of say doctor suicide and be able to prevent future suffering.
Interestingly, I learned that people of lower status (wealth, education, beauty) have trouble generating empathy for anyone with higher “perceived” status. May explain why physicians who make very human mistakes are tormented and bullied (even in Physicians Health Programs) when they actually need compassion and treatment—not punishment and license revocation.
“There have been doctors in my family for generations. I wanted to be a veterinarian, but there was pressure to go to medical school as the highest and best profession, so I did.”
My answer is 4. Parental dream
I was told my mother was pressured to drop out of medical school when she became pregnant with me (her first child).
I became a doctor primarily for the financial security. Luckily, I found it challenging and enjoyable. But my childhood was scarred by constant financial insecurity and worry … so that was motivating. I had no healthcare experience or exposure beside my birth in a hospital. I had no relatives in healthcare and was never ill. In fact, I seldom was taken to any doctor during my childhood.
Now I am trying to recover from the scars given to me from the PHP. I wish I could be hypnotized to forget the shit show and trauma I have experienced in the last 2 years.
I’d like to believe in a just God and in the commonly cited AA phrase, “nothing happens without a reason in God’s world.” But it still hurts horribly. And it is hard to let go of the resentment I have for them. I have been so lucky to have a supportive family. Without them, I would be dead.