LIFE IS MORE THAN MEDICINE

Dr. Tejal Lathia

When Dr. Suranjana Basak asked me to write an article for her magazine “LEXICON” along the lines of my “learning curve” as a doctor, I took a day or two to reflect on it. Since this article is mainly aimed at young medical students and residents, I considered what I wish I had known when I was a young medical student. My journey of learning is pretty well encapsulated by the famous “Dunning-Kruger effect”.

  1. More than a Doctor 

I think the most important lesson I have learned in retrospect, after almost 25 years since joining MBBS, is that I am not “only” a doctor. Probably the younger generation already knows this, but for me, it was an epiphany at the age of 42. For the first time in my life, I realized that life is so much bigger, and I have a right to live my life just as fully as anyone else. Taking the time to build relationships outside of work, nurturing ties with family, and cultivating hobbies. Above all, having compassion for ourselves as being ordinary human beings practicing a profession that is sometimes extraordinary. 

As I broke out of the limiting label of being an “only” doctor, I began to explore this newfound freedom. I started writing blogs and began research in communication in medicine (my passion!). I started to consult for a digital technology company working in healthcare where we brainstormed on patient engagement, harnessing technology to improve patient outcomes and empower people to manage their conditions.

I am more than “just” a doctor. 
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  1. Drawing boundaries 

The second most important lesson I learned – again a little too late, was drawing boundaries. With the help of my close friend and counselor, I decided what my practice would look like. I decided how many patients I saw, how many hours I worked, and the number of hospitals I visited. I learned to judge my success by my own measures, not what others set for me. 

I also learned to draw boundaries around my personal time, guarding it fiercely against the onslaught of friends, relatives, neighbors, and passing acquaintances, all wanting a piece of me – to discuss reports, to get second opinions, and demand my time. Conserving time for my family and my health.

I learned to let go of the fear of that these people would think badly of me if I said No. 

  1. Innocent until proven guilty 

Probably the third learning was absolving myself of the guilt that plagued me for bad outcomes of people’s conditions. I used to feel responsible for every patient who didn’t meet their Hba1c target, I agonized about the complications they would suffer. I felt like a failure every time one of my patients developed a complication of diabetes or relapsed during their hyperthyroidism. I was hard on myself, holding myself responsible for everything that went wrong. 

I had to learn to stop thinking of myself as some great savior healing the sick. The truth in the practice of medicine is, that we have a small role to play in the dance of nature. Most of the cause and effect of a medical condition or disease is beyond our control. Meaning thereby, the cure of a condition is not up to us alone and neither is blame if a person succumbs to their condition. We can only do the best that we know and detach from the outcomes – good or bad. 

This act is one of great kindness to oneself. Otherwise, if we get embroiled in the blame and shame game for the success or failure of each and every person we treat – we will burnout and fast! 

  1. Stop and take stock

The final learning for this article (though there are many more), that I consider important is that we must take the time to reflect on our journey, stopping at every turn to analyze, to reconsider, to correct course – Is this what I really want? Am I heading in the right direction? Does this resonate with my purpose? Is this something I want to continue to do for the next 20 years of my life? How am I doing? Am I happy? 

Summary

The first principle of medicine is Primum Non Nocere – First, Do No Harm. I think this must apply as much to doctors as it does to patients. Time and again, we hold ourselves to impossible standards set by others, crashing and burning in the attempt to measure up. We are not selfish in practicing self-care.

You are more than a Doctor. 

You decide how to use your time

You are a blink in evolution, health and disease are far bigger than mere doctors. 

You must stop and check if you are heading in the right direction, right for you. 

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