Is Medicine a Job or Lifestyle?

Sheila M. Bigelow, DO


July 11, 2012


Is medicine meant to take over my entire life?

Response from Sheila M. Bigelow, DO
Resident Physician, Pediatrics, UH Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, Cleveland, Ohio

Although I am early in my career as a physician, I still grapple with this question and come up with a different answer depending on the day.

When I was younger and deciding whether a career in medicine was meant for me, I remember being told by a mentoring physician, "Medicine is a lifestyle, not just a career or a job.

In medical school, you're faced with a tremendous amount of material to learn. You are afraid that if you don't do well, you won't get your dream residency. You study more than ever. You are in the library so much that you know where the best seats are and where every outlet is located within a 3-foot range.

During your clerkships, you work long hours at the hospital, study for exams, and work on finishing your research project. You find the best bathrooms in the hospital and the interns who are most willing to help you practice your presentation before rounds. Your college friends have their first jobs with paychecks, while you are signing a promissory note for yet another loan.

During your intern year, it just gets harder. No more cosigning your orders; they have your name as the responsible physician. Walking into a patient's room saying, "Hi, I'm Dr. Bigelow, the intern physician taking care of you" is different from saying you're the medical student.

You work long hours and miss holidays, weddings, and birthdays. You have to figure out the hospital system and how to make it work for you and your patients. Your patients identify you as their physician. You celebrate their good news and mourn their bad news. You also figure out how to eat lunch while calling a consult and signing out for your afternoon clinic. Some sort of bodily fluid winds up on your clothes at least once during the year, if not more often.

It probably seems like medicine takes over your entire life. However, I strongly disagree. Through my career and experiences, I have met wonderful patients who have taught me that no matter the hand dealt to you, you will always win with a positive attitude and humor.

I have congratulated brand-new parents on their beautiful baby and have even made appearances in some of their family photos. I have gained friends who know what to say after I've had a bad day at work or broken up with my boyfriend, or when I find myself feeling homesick. I have gained coworkers who I still want to hang out with after work, even after spending 80 hours per week in the hospital with them.

I have lived in cities I probably would never have lived in, and figured out how to navigate from point A to point B. I have learned that sometimes it's okay to just be by yourself. I have seen my parents beam with pride at my medical school graduation and each time they tell someone that their daughter is a physician. I have gotten the chance to work with students and pass on what I know about medicine -- and sometimes a little about life as well.

So yes, some may say medicine has taken over my life, but I believe it has given me much more than it has taken away.