The Ripple Effect of Being a Physician

Allan M. Block, MD

April 22, 2021

"I want my life to mean something."

She was young, energetic, and idealistic. She was seeing me for her migraines, but our conversation had turned to her applying for medical school.

"I want my life to mean something."

I reflected on that later. I once said similar things, but now found myself wondering, two-thirds of the way through my career, did it?

Dr Allan Block

The world certainly isn't safer, geopolitically or environmentally, now than it was when I left medical school. Hell, the idea that there'd actually be another worldwide pandemic was pretty much beyond me then. That seemed so 1918.

I can't even say I've made a huge difference in medicine. I'm not on the front line of research, inventing cures and tests that will change what we do. I'm certainly far removed from the front lines of the pandemic.

But realistically, none of those things were ever really my goal, either.

"I want my life to mean something."

Sometimes it's hard to think I've made a difference. Day in and day out I'm at my office, quietly sitting behind a desk and trying to look smart. For all good some point it's just a job.

Then I realized that the job isn't about me. It's about her, and the many other people who come to me for help. The real meaning is the impact on their lives.

Anytime we see a patient and make their lives better, either through treatment or compassion, it creates a ripple effect. It helps their family, friends, and coworkers. Whether we're actually giving help or just understanding.

It might even inspire one of them to go into medicine, because my generation will be drifting toward retirement in the next 10 years.

Our care may set off a chain reaction we can't see. Perhaps the patient you help will return to work and initiate some action that will bring a marked benefit to us all. Or someone in their circle, freed or inspired by their improvement, will bring about such a change.

Like tossing a stone into a pond, our actions in medicine can have effects far beyond where the pebble landed.

And that's meaning enough for me.

Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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