Why do doctors want to be doctors?

We’ve been (LZ has been) visiting the hospital quite a bit these few days because his dad had a keyhole operation on wednesday to remove a cyst that was pretty near to his heart. While the op was on wednesday, he was already discharged today (friday) due to lack of beds in the hospital. His surgeon spent all of one minute talking to him to explain how the operation was going to be conducted. One minute! That’s it! It’s not very reassuring, but his dad said the guy was busy. I think being in the medical trade is a seriously thankless task. The hours are long, the work is dirty, you hardly get enough time to rest adequately before your next shift. But a ton of my friends from high school went to med school (it’s an undergraduate degree in Singapore) because it was a seemingly prestigious field to study. Prestigious for their parents, who can go around telling their friends that their kids were doctors (also, lawyers) and were essentially “professionals” in the shallowest sense of the word. Unless they were motivated by (the somewhat idealistic) notion of making the world a better place by healing people, there is little to be said for such a life of drudgery. And believe me, I don’t think many of my friends were motivated by such moral reasons inasmuch as the very Asian “prestige” such a job offers. I do feel a somewhat small, and admittedly lame sense of pride when I tell other people that my brother is a lawyer, but I would be even more proud of him if he were an architect, or a successful artist (i.e. people will actually pay good money for his art/writing). I do think he would be able to hack it in the art circuit, but you know what? In Singapore, even being a lawyer FIRST (a wholly unrelated but respectable profession) will gain you greater credibility as an artist; even more so than someone who cannot do anything else BUT art, who has greater talent than you. It’s a skewed little world we live in!

Anyway, the turnover rate for lawyers in Singapore is extremely high I think, especially in big firms. Many lawyers find greater satisfaction in baking, acting, other less technical tasks and enter those professions accordingly after 1-5 years in their firm. I think the only saving grace of doctoring is the fact that you are at least doing something moral, so even if your life is tough, your hours are tough, your job is tough, you may potentially be able to live off that warm fuzzy feeling you get from helping other people.

It takes a long time for Singaporeans to be content with their lot in life. Across different eras of your life, they have invented various commodities/rubrics with which to compare themselves with their fellow wayfarers. Probably in secondary school and JC, your GPA and class standing was important to you. After that, which university you got into, which scholarship you got. After that, how many credits you can cram into your course schedule at uni (and I’m being perfectly serious here, there were plenty of Singaporeans at Cornell who were extremely self-satisfied about doing 30+ credit semesters; and this was made not-so-subtly obvious by their continuous lamenting about the course schedule they foisted upon themselves). After that, the next most obvious things to compare would be who has the best work-life balance, best remuneration, who doesn’t need to stay back from work. And I think doctors lose in all three categories, unless they are super passionate about helping people (which should have manifested when they were younger too, I feel? I am as nonchalant about other people’s problems when I was younger as I am now, at least, about strangers’ problems)

In comparison I get to do math at work, which I love. And I get to write all these blog posts, because my code is compiling, which is pretty awesome. The work is doable (almost easy), people seem sufficiently impressed by it, and some of the people at work are really nice to talk to. If I stay back at work, it’s because work on Fridays ends at 4:30pm and my dinner reservation is at 7pm, and if I were to leave the office I’d have nowhere to go inbetween my office and the restaurant, so I stay in my cubicle :P The remuneration is one of the best (because of the defence budget), and the work is one of the easiest (for me anyway). If I had a good reason (like a young charge), I’d be able to work from home, for less highly classified projects.

I wonder what the turnover rate for the medical profession is, and how many doctors truly believe in their job. Perhaps it is one of those things where you start out indifferent as to the cause, and start to care more about it when you realize the sort of impact your job has. I feel really sorry for all the people who entered the profession cause of its prestige though. Also for lawyers, who only realized posthumously that they didn’t care enough about the status nor for the subject matter to give up their rest, their youth, their time.



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