Working in medicine, we as doctors sometimes struggle with our outlook on our careers, or what our purpose is. It's fair enough, really, as the healthcare system we are exposed to has been battered and bruised by decades of underfunding and dubious outside interests from other parties, that has often lead to a money-driven rather than care-driven system. That exposure transforms us, if we're not careful, in to being dispirited and disenaged from what should actually be a wonderfully vibrant career. If we're not careful, we become medic zombies (more on that later). So how can we change our outlook?
In order to change our outlook, we must change our lookout point.
Imagine that you're hiking up a mountain. You've come so far you feel you surely must be at the top by now... But just as you think you've made it, the clouds clear and you realise you've still got a long way to go. And when you do eventually reach the summit, you only stay a short while, before you continue onwards. That's because the satisfaction on hiking doesn't just come from getting to the top, it's the whole experience - the views as you're going up, the comradery with your fellow hikers, the feeling of purpose, and the satisfaction you feel at the end of the day when you can put your feet up, feeling invigorated from the challenges you faced. This is what medicine SHOULD feel like, too.
So imagine then that you are climbing Medical Mountain. From whatever stage you're at, be it a medical student, foundation doctor, in training, out of training, clinging on or feeling close to the edge, change your lookout point where you are just now, by appreciating these six things:
Be proud of how far you've come. Look down and see where you started. In what feels like no time at all look at what you've already managed to do! Pause and take stock of this.
Appreciate that the mountain you're climbing is one of the hardest to climb. Dealing with death and dying is hard. Ironically though, it's not nearly as hard as dealing with the system that's designed around caring for patients, as it's a system built on a hefty dose of ego. When you see it, warts and all, you realise sometimes you're far away from placing your feet on the ground of the mountain at all; you're seriously distanced from the ability to provide compassionate care due to the culture that prevails. Knowing this though - that it's often not you that's the problem, but the system, is comforting. At Medizom, this is a major focus, as by bringing in to focus the problems of the system, the greater likelihood there is of dismantling it from its foundations.
Appreciate that whilst the mountain is challenging, like any good mountain, the more challenging it is, the more rewarding it is likely to be. If you can stay true to yourself and resist the danger of becoming a medic zombie, you realise that a career in medicine is hugely fulfilling and exciting. No day is the same and no patient is the same. You discover that you can really make a difference in people's lives, but the caring has to start with yourself first, before you can find this compassion to help others.
Medical Mountain has no summit. No-one ever reaches the top, and if they feel like they have, then they've missed the point. We need to stop talking in terms of 'I'll be happy when I've finished x, or I'd be happy if only it wasn't for y', but focus on enjoying the journey NOW. Whilst you might never reach the summit of Medical Mountain, the joy is in the journey, not the destination.
In fact, Medical Mountain in more of a mountain range rather than simply one mountain! If there's one great thing about medicine, it's that there's always a choice, it's just that sometimes it doesn't feel like it! It's a choice which specialty you choose, and there are many choose form. It's a choice whether you even choose a specialty at all, and either make a temporary or permanent decision to pursue a non-training role, of which there are even more options. If you want to keep your skin in the game, take the zig zag route, not the straight-and-narrow!
You're never in this alone. Now more than ever thanks to COVID 19, doctors are speaking out and being honest about their struggles with their journeys. As well as learning from peers, there are mountain guides - people who have been on the journey for longer and know some of the pitfalls you might face, and help you avoid them. There are also yodellers from different mountains that have made the system work for them rather than the other way around. Seek these people out to feel inspired and empowered to find your own path.
I think the 6th point is the hardest to appreciate at times, and I'm keen to tell my own story here. I was reluctant at first to share this on Medizom, but I think it's important to inform you of how Medizom was borne out of my own suffering up the mountain - a lot of my pain came from thinking I was abnormal for it being such a struggle. I didn't realise that I was suffering from was what's commonly known as 'burnout', or what I like to refer to as becoming a 'medic-zombie', lifelessly going about my life and career. In this video, I speak with Vafa Talaban, one of Medizom's Mountain Guides, about my journey.
Here's what others had to say about their own experiences
NAVIGATE CURRENT LIVE PAGES ON THE SITE, OR FIND OUT MORE ABOUT MEDIZOM BELOW
Medizom Mountain Guides
"THE MEDIC ZOMBIE"
INDIVIDUAL FAILURES + SYSTEM FAILURES + CULTURAL FAILURES = MEDIC ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE
Being a doctor can and should be a wonderful privilege, in which we're able to meaningfully impact on another's life. It is a career that spans decades, can take you all over the world, can teach you all about life and death, and encourages you to always be learning.
But how often does it ever feel like a privilege, and more like a curse? Like you've been sold a lie - that your ability to ever be compassionate and a good doctor is achieved not thanks to, but DESPITE the healthcare care system that is in place?
The system that we see today slowly but surely sucks the life out of you - the long and antisocial hours working, the culture of infantilism and institutionalism - all these factors and more make it more likely for us to become MEDIC ZOMBIES. Add to that our own inabilities to face up to and forgive ourselves for our weaknesses, our fixed mindsets, our tendency to always be 'plugged in', and our constant need for validation, the less resilient we are to fending off the medic zombie apocalypse.
At Medizom then, we seek to turn all these failures on its head, and consider what a world would look like in which the current models that are being attempted to stem the tide of physician burnout materialise and become the norm. It seeks to demonstrate how a healthcare system that prioritises compassion over capitalism would lead to a new era of medicine. It seeks to explore on a wider scale how we could become more human if we were better able to address our relationship to our egos and technology.