It occurred to me towards the end of our conversation that there was a large gaping hole. My colleague and I had talked about physician burnout, career choices and his current plans. He had drawn a map of his future. The path it traced originally shot straight as an arrow towards clinical medicine, but now it veered precipitously toward something else. I took a moment to first clear my thoughts and then my throat.

“Medicine,” I explained, “is still as noble a profession as ever.” 

Every day I tentatively dip my toes into the current that swirls around me. Often I am pulled violently into its depths.  My body bumps and sways in the mass of humanity.  Our rhythms join at times and depart at others. Among the tumult, my mind strains to unlock riddles and my hands reach forward, pawing the Rubik’s Cube of disjointed anatomy laid bare on my table.

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I am imperfect and it’s hard, even maddening. I sometimes curse at my own feeble abilities. Yet this profession offers an opportunity to connect with our fellow humans to reach an imperfect hand towards a suffering soul — regardless of outcome. We reach out over and over again, on weekends, holidays or in the middle of the night. When it’s inconvenient. When it really matters.

We become the beacon of light for someone’s darkness. It is the epitome of meaning, wrapped in a profession, crafted over years of practice. There is nothing that I would rather be doing for a lifetime. There is no profession more worthy. There is no pastime more challenging. There is no calling more sacred.

We suffer today, not from a failure of training or a mighty profession gone astray, but from a greedy, lecherous and diabolical distortion foisted upon us.

We suffer from a government so mired in special interests that often the most simplified and logical tasks become tortuously burdensome. Administrators with little knowledge of actual medical practice add layers of bureaucratic minutia to the workloads of already overburdened healthcare providers. Computer systems are generated with the wrongheaded idea of Big Data collection, further warping severely strained processes.

We suffer from big businesses, hospitals and insurers that are bent on squeezing every last cent from a system where nothing is produced. They just repackage the knowledge and ability of their clinicians, while slapping on a brand new inflated price tag.

We also suffer from ourselves. Our medical societies pat our backs with one hand while picking our pockets with the other.

Some of our physicians truly have lost their way. They’ve traded in this holy art for a chance to feast on the carcass of their corrupted brethren: The doctors who value bloat, cruelty, over-testing and over-diagnosis and aim to add to their wealth rather than improve the health of their patients.

But for the great majority of doctors, medicine is still noble and worthy.

If society allows it.

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