During my month-long exposure to psychiatry in Jacksonville, FL, I came to a sort of peace. In some capacity, I was going to be a psychiatrist. If you followed along with my exhausting identity crisis on my Instagram story throughout this past 6 months, you’ll know that I felt destined, previously, to be a neuro-critical care doc. I did have a brief stint of OB-GYN love, but that quickly dissipated [thank God. I can only handle so much!!!] I still LOVE the field of neurocritical care and think it is absolutely fascinating to be able to ascertain so much data from a pure physical exam and collateral accounts. However, my month in psychiatry showed me a lot about myself that I think is well stated in a recent article by Chrissy Liu, a medical student in Milwaukee, Wi. You can read the article here.
A brief premise to my identity crisis is that I applied to medical school as an MD-PhD. I had grand ideas about the intersection of neurobiology and psychiatry, building simplistic blood panels to assess accurate drug treatment profiles and finding genetic bases for mood disorders. I went through the taxing time of interviewing and long story short, gave up the PhD aspirations to be an MD candidate at Mayo Clinic School of Medicine.
So why did I discount psychiatry as I entered medical school? Why wasn’t it #2 or #1 on my list of things to be when I grow up when I clearly had a vested interest in the field? I was scared.
Chrissy writes about her experience of “White Coat Privilege,” but it’s not the negative type of privilege we’re so used to in this day in age.
Am I strong enough to undergo such an emotionally disheartening and overwhelmingly stressful career? Am I capable of taking control of people’s lives, and importantly, letting go when biomedicine fails to sustain them?
Yet without compassionate providers to treat patients in their most vulnerable state, they would have no fighting chance at all. I am not weak. I just have empathy.
Huh. I knew I had empathy all along. But my view of empathy in the setting of patient care was previously tied to weakness, a superior flaw, the reason I couldn’t be something that interested me so much.
My time in Jacksonville showed me what so many psychiatrists along my medical school career have been chanting to me. Empathy is not a weakness and it can be harnessed in the most powerful ways. This is how we can care the MOST for our patients—by walking alongside them. Yes, it is critical to be able to draw a line and see patient situations from a calm, level-headed view for appropriate treatment and management. But we should never be ashamed to hold the hands of our patients, to experience the richness of their lives and the ups and downs of their story.
So yeah. I crossed psychiatry off my list because I thought I’d feel too much. But I’ve learned that empathetic doctoring is a learned skill. I literally have empathy rolling out of my eyeballs, but molding it into something conducive and productive for my patients will be the ultimate challenge of my training. Through conversation and discussion with many mentors, I am now confident that through training and increasing skill acquisition that I can be better. I don’t have to carry the baggage of every patient I meet. But I can try to help lighten their load, give them a hand to hold, and walk alongside them as they journey through this crazy thing we call life.
P.S. I’m still interested in the intersection of neurology and psychiatry. See my about me section and watch for an upcoming post…..
M3 at Mayo Clinic School of Medicine