Why I Didn’t (and still don’t) Want To Be a Doctor

Disclaimer: I love doctors. I really do. I have the utmost respect for who they are and what they do, and I wholeheartedly believe that excellent patient care cannot be delivered without multidisciplinary teams, of which doctors are an integral part.

So honestly, to all present, future, and past doctors: y’all are awesome. Thanks for putting up with my incessant pages and phone calls and for sharing your knowledge and expertise with this over-enthusiastic not-so-new grad. Thank you for your service to the elderly, the very young, and everyone in between. Patients need you, and nurses would be obsolete without all of you.

But if you still have your job, please keep it.

This post stems not only from a recent conversation from a well-meaning nurse but from many previous conversations I’ve had with various people. (My dad is one of those individuals. As a traditional Chinese-American parent, his unsurprising dream was for me to become a doctor. Definitely dashed those hopes...whoops!) I frequently find myself justifying my decision to go to nursing school, and this most recent occasion was no exception. After I reluctantly told this particular nurse my high school GPA, I was immediately questioned as to why I didn’t go to med school.

“I mean you’re obviously smart enough…!” he said, genuinely curious.

Well, why can’t I employ my alleged smarts as an astute nurse? I so badly wanted to retort.

Let’s get the basics out of the way. If I put my mind to it, I could probably be a doctor. However, I’m way too impatient to wait until I’m nearly 30 or older to actually start my career. I’m not a fan of the idea of being up to my ears in debt. Or of the amount of liability involved. Or of the fact that it’s definitely not as easy to switch specialties and not as flexible to dabble in various settings simultaneously (I have a lot of diverse interests!).

Logistically and professionally, it just doesn’t make sense.

But because I’m an ESFJ (hello, even my Myers-Briggs type just screams nurse), there are just too many personal, emotionally-rooted reasons why I would never want to be a doctor.

First, I consider it a privilege to not only see but be with people both at their absolute best but more significantly, at their absolute worst. I remember sitting with and helping to feed a patient with Huntington’s who was cursing me out one minute and breaking down in tears the next. I’ll never forget one of my first patients, who was nauseous and experiencing severe, cancerous pain. I talked with him when he stopped responding, remembering that hearing is one of the last senses to go. I’ve talked and spent time with patients — too many to count — who were severely depressed, suicidal, homicidal, withdrawing from alcohol or drugs, you name it. These are moments I will never, ever forget.

I recognize that doctors are certainly capable of this, but most of the time, their schedule and priorities don’t allow for many of these sorts of interactions. Although I realize that time is also precious in nurses’ eyes, we are privileged to have more opportunities to have these encounters. Yes, some days are pure insanity, where we barely have time to use the restroom, let alone sit down with a patient. But other days are more forgiving. And we must remember that these instances are incredibly therapeutic and healing for both the patient and the practitioner. We can’t fix everything — particularly mental health disorders — but we can offer kindness and hope.

Furthermore, even though there are days and times where I wish I could hide under a desk in the residents’ room, 99% of the time I love that I get to spend the whole day with my patients. I thrive on human interaction — it’s like air or water to me. (Let’s be real, one of the main reasons why I chose nursing was I absolutely do not have the capacity to sit at a desk for 8 hours straight, at least at my age.) And there’s no way I could pop in and out of a patient’s room a handful of times a day. I love entering rooms in the morning and introducing myself as the nurse for the day and leaving with an “I’ll be back tomorrow!” at shift change. I appreciate the bonds I build with patients as I dress wounds, give medications and baths, change linens, crumble crackers into soup, assist with ambulation, draw labs, listen to hearts and lungs and abdomens, and yes, clean up vomit and diarrhea and blood. As I do all of this, I get to hear about things that make me smile and things that break my heart, about the patient who’s been married for 67 years to his high school sweetheart and about the patient who was abused and disowned by his father.

I recently saw a former patient in the hallway, and he insisted that he would do anything for me because of what I did for him. I know I didn’t do anything revolutionary or life-changing besides offer him a healthy dose of compassion and empathy (and help get him well enough to go home), but that was enough for him. The physical, emotional, and mental demands are great, but so are the rewards.

And because nurses are with patients the entire day, we (as I alluded to in my last post) have the unique opportunity to establish special relationships with people. Nurses are not the most important part of the healthcare team, but we are certainly the most visible and the most present. Many times, I have heard patients, family, and friends recollect their hospital stays and specifically mention the indelible impact of the nurses. Some mention specific qualities, others even include specific names. Often, their story is the same: “I have nothing against the doctors, but it was the nurses who took care of me.”

Lawrence O’Donnell speaks to everything I’ve discussed, recounting a couple of nurses who cared for him after surgery and the unforgettable bonds he built. I’ve watched this clip on several different occasions (and maybe you have to0), but each time, it still brings me to tears…and reminds me how lucky I am to have the job that I do.

So yes. I could have probably gone to med school if I wanted to. But for many reasons, I chose not to take that path. And though I don’t know what my life would have been like otherwise, I’m pretty darn happy with my decision and with the current letters after my name, because even in as little as a year, they have already allowed me to transform lives in unique ways — and be transformed in the process.

1 Corinthians 15:58

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