In this post, I offered up a global apology on behalf of doctors everywhere to those whom they may have hurt. But if you're a doctor, I can guarantee that you also deserve an apology. I'm certain that you—like me—have suffered at the hands of other doctors, so on behalf of those doctors who have hurt you, I'm so sorry, my love.
I'm sorry the other doctors wouldn't cover your hospital shift when you wanted to go to your grandmother's funeral. I'm sorry your attending physician forced you to scrub into the OR wearing a diaper when you had uncontrollable diarrhea. I'm sorry you wanted to be a surgeon, but your chauvinist mentor in medical school told you your only choice as a woman was to become a pediatrician or an OB/GYN.
I'm sorry you had to stop breastfeeding and leave your newborn baby when she was only 4 weeks old because other doctors insisted you go back to work and care for other women's children. I'm sorry the doctors cast disparaging remarks upon you when you lost a patient and wound up in tears. I'm sorry they taught you that you have to close off your heart in order to bear the pain you witness every day.
I'm sorry you spent a decade skipping meals, deprived of sleep, and walking around in a daze. I'm sorry the grunt work you did in order to make it through went largely unnoticed, unpaid, and unappreciated. I'm sorry they yelled at you when you couldn't memorize all 20 laboratory values in the Chem-20 or spaced on the name of the navicular bone. I'm sorry they mocked you when you wanted to have a ceremony to say good-bye to the Gross Anatomy cadaver you dissected into shreds.
You don't deserve that kind of inhumane treatment, and I understand why this kind of trauma leads you to lash out sometimes at pimply kids learning a new job in a grocery store.
I'm sorry you feel trapped in a system that is not what you expected. I'm sorry you're disillusioned, and I'm sorry the lawyers and managed care companies and hospital administrators are breathing down your neck expecting you to be perfect, when you've already sacrificed everything, and you're already doing the best you can. I'm sorry you got sued for something that wasn't your fault. I'm sorry your salary has been cut in half, while the hours you're expected to work have doubled. I'm sorry you dream of quitting but can't afford to buy your way out of indentured servanthood.
I'm sorry you've felt so powerless for so long, and I'm sorry medicine hasn't turned out to be all you hoped it would be back when you were called to this profession as a young person.
Thank you for making the sacrifices you've made, for putting the needs of others before the needs of yourself, for dropping everything to come running when someone cries for help. Thank you for skipping keg parties to study for organic chemistry, for enduring sleepless nights and countless indignities in the name of learning, for tolerating angry teachers and stressed-out colleagues, for surviving lawsuits with your head held high, for not letting the insurance turkeys get you down, for dealing with complications that occurred on your watch, and for never forgetting that you did the best you could and that nobody is perfect. Thank you for following your passion, for clinging to the authentic core of who you are deep within, for serving your life purpose, and for doing it with integrity and courage.
It's easy to lose sight of this when you feel bogged down with CPT codes, falling reimbursement rates, electronic medical records, rising malpractice insurance, subpoenas and blaring pagers. It's easy to question why you ever went to medical school in the first place. It's easy to fantasize about quitting, like I did.
It's tempting to close our hearts and build up an iron wall to protect ourselves from the depth of feeling that lies beneath our work. We may use the white coat as armor to protect our soft underbellies. We let it become our identity, forgetting that we have rich nuggets of truth within us, and that's what truly defines us, not the white coat. We lose touch with the idealistic kid who took the MCAT ages ago. We wind up hardened.
But I know better. I can see beneath the mask you wear—the one you put on when you scrub into the operating room or show up at the office, the one you often forget to take off when you go back home and start barking orders at your wife like she's a scrub tech in your OR.
I see the fear that grips you when you think about who you might be if you took the white coat off and let your whole self show up at the hospital. I see how your marriage suffers when you can't leave work at work. I see how your kids cry when they are sick and you can't be their doctor because you must go to work. I see the bitterness that threatens to destroy you.
But I can also see the brilliance within you, the bright sparkly light that shines like a lighthouse, beckoning you back to who you really are underneath that white coat. I see your heart, exposed and vulnerable beneath its ribcage armor, longing to break open and love fully. I see the fantasies you've let slide, the secret longings you've never spoken, the guilt you feel when you think about cheating on your calling to chase butterflies.
Most of all, I see your radiance, and I honor your gifts. I know how much you gave up in order to learn how to cure that cancer. I know how you don't sleep the night before you operate on that scarred uterus. I know how you hold your breath every time you take that heart off bypass or pull out that endotracheal tube in the ICU.
I honor the unique gifts you bring to the healing round table. I know you can help God perform the kinds of miracles few others can. I'm so grateful that you exist, and when I am sick, I will put my body and faith in your hands.
But please—don't make me have to apologize for us anymore.
Make your own apologies. Heal your own heart. Release your grievances and let go of what no longer serves you. Don't forget to embrace your inner healer. Remember why you're here. And never let go of that spark within you that drew you to this profession in the first place.
You, my friend, are a blessing. The world is so lucky you are in it. You are loving and lovable, not because you're a doctor, but because of who you are at the very core of you. Take this knowing and spread it into the world. Take it into the hospitals and clinics, the ER's and OR's and doctors' lounges. Take it into your homes and gyms and art studios. Share it with your churches, your schools, your grocery stores.
The world needs you. We must rally together right now and reclaim what is rightfully ours, so we may lead the way.
Do You Know A Doctor Who Needs To Read This? Pass It On
If you know a doctor who needs to read this, please send it to him or her. Many of us - especially those of us in the surgical specialties - suffer from full blown post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of our profession. And we can't truly be a healing force in the world until we heal ourselves.
So spread the word. Let's help heal doctors so they can facilitate our own self-healing.
Holding space for healing,
Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, Pink Medicine Revolutionary, motivational speaker, and author of What's Up Down There? Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.
Learn more about Lissa Rankin here.