Friday, January 14, 2011


I have tried to recall the thought processes that led me to decide to become a doctor and can only come up with a rather embarrassing few. I was an 18 year old freshman at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy & Science when, at some point during the spring semester I remember deciding that I would rather be writing prescriptions than filling them. Acting in a manner that would come to be rather common place for me, I very quickly notified the proper people of my decision (my parents, the Dean of the college, and my best friends, Carmen and Desi) and the following fall I found myself at Lebanon Valley College with a pre-med major.

And that’s it! No dreams about serving others or saving lives, no aspirations to be on the forefront of the medical frontier, either in research or teaching. In fact I cannot remember ever having any concrete ideas about what my life's work would entail. All I knew was that I was going to be a physician...that it was the right thing for me to do, and that was all I needed to know at that time.

Why did I do that? How did I know it was right for me? What information did I sift through, consciously or unconsciously to arrive at that decision? When I think about it now I am amazed. At that time in my life I was totally unconscious of what might be considered my aptitude, gifts, or of anything remotely resembling an awareness of my inner life, drives, needs, etc. And yet that practice medicine...was to tap into what I have since recognized as a deeply seated gift, as well as a need, to care, and to be present to others. This has been one of the defining characteristics of my life.

Was there more...has time blunted my memory of the events of that defining time? If so, maybe in my terminal years, when we somehow find old memories, in place of the short term ones, I’ll have the answer.

I made that choice, and in spite of another calling years later, I have zero regrets. Medicine helped me define who and what I am, and has given me the unbelievable privilege of serving others. I am forever grateful for that opportunity.

(from my journal...2002)

Note...the image at the beginning of this post has nothing to do with anything. I felt that any post would not be complete without at least one this case, an oil pastel.

And further more...I hope to be posting a series of these journal entries over the next few weeks focusing on the interplay between medicine and art.


David C. said...

It is interesting how career decisions are made. I decided to switch to premed during the first year of respiratory therapy school when I found that sputum wasn't all that interesting. Then I decided to pursue radiology because I didn't want to deal with people's psychological problems. Little did I know my colleagues and employees would provide ample opportunity to deal with that.

ASJ said...

That's not unlike how I became an economist, Bill. I wanted to be directing the research and teaching rather than doing the programming and research drudge work. Unlike you, though, I spent years wondering if I had made the right decision. It's only recently that I know I did. :-)

cowango said...

Maybe writing prescriptions sounded more romantic than the prospect of putting pills into bottles all day long. I suspect that you had an epiphany that you were capable of more and that perhaps your heart knew what it wanted more than your brain. I also think we can't begin to imagine what serving our fellow human beings s can give us but only discover that afterward.