A doctor that does not dream of seeing patients: It is a secret I have held close for many years. While friends and colleagues dreamt of scrubbing into surgery or walking into a clinic, I dreamt of silence. They saw themselves under the bright white lights of the operating room and I saw myself standing in a lecture hall. Instead of a stethoscope, I wanted a microscope; instead of scalpel, I’d take a dotting pen instead.
This realization bowled me over for months as I went through my last year of rotations as a medical student. All of my rotations required patient interaction – would I just resign myself to hold an academic doctorate or could I serve another way? The field of medicine, however, never fails to surprise and here are some of my favorite ways to be a patient-less doctor so far (and a surprise peek at my planned specialty)!
#1 Medicine as an art form
Writing and the (literal) medical arts are fields that are sometimes forgotten or taken for granted in our field. From medical editors who read and sift through thousands of texts waiting to be published to the medical artists that slave over beautiful figures and images for us to learn from, I can’t believe that we don’t talk about these fields more often! I remember when I first saw this article about Dr. Frank Netter, I was so floored by the sheer talent and skill as well as in awe of a life where so much of what you love – art and medicine – meet to form your lifelong profession. Medical professionals are multifaceted and multi-talented individuals. So whether it be writing for a blog like Physeo or creating images, graphics and illustrations for texts, there is something out there for the soul who loves science but is fueled by art.
#2 Medicine and education
As a professor, tutor or even a clinical educator, not only do you have the opportunity to consistently be kept on your toes in terms of your medical knowledge, but you are granted the distinct honor and privilege of ensuring that our legacy and profession are passed on to the future generations of physicians everywhere. One of my favorite things to do in medical school was mentor and teach younger medical students, especially on topics that I struggled with and conquered through time. I remember especially being proud of teaching history-taking and physical examination, the key elements in every field, and being even prouder when my fellow students came back to tell me that they finally “got it.” Medical education may not require us doing CPR or triaging in the emergency room, but we save lives through the lessons we teach each day.
#3 Medicine in the legislature as a catalyst for public reform
Another overlooked opportunity is that of public health. There is nothing that should impact health legislation more than those who lack access to it, but we know that this is not often the case. The opportunities for medical professionals to work in public health or similar government positions that will help frame new legislation and advocate for those who are marginalized is not only necessary, but essential. Part of being a physician is being an advocate – an advocate for our patients who need us and for our colleagues who need our protection. The pandemic has shown us that more than anything, the frontline of medicine should also include the legislature. Medical minds should have a seat at the table when it comes to public health and safety.
#4 Medical specialties with special qualities
But what if you wanted to be at a hospital? There’s an answer for that! Pathology, radiology, anesthesiology, and medical research come to mind as specialties that allow for you to work within a hospital community but require little to no patient interaction. Pathology and radiology as a practice do not deal with patients directly, though they may opt to speak with patients upon request regarding findings. Anesthesiology is another such specialty that has minimal patient interaction, pre-op and post-op monitoring and asking for consent are your major duties. In addition, medical research laboratories are always in need of brilliant minds to help spur on the innovation and progress in medicine! I, personally, fell in love with Pathology because there was something about seeing the world at 400x magnification that drew me in. There are so many options for us no-patient-people to choose from, it’s all a matter of widening our search!
#5 Medicine at its core, service
For me, there is nothing more valuable or treasured than the gift of time. Throughout my academic medical career and even as a postgraduate, I found the most joy volunteering at clinics, finding opportunities to hold medical missions in areas that lack access to care, and offering a listening ear to those who need more than “just a doctor.” These instances when seeing patients is really your choice and something you enjoy rather than a requirement with billing and paperwork and all the headaches in between are moments when I have found the most fulfillment and happiness in medicine. They remind me of my why.
But I have never liked seeing patients.
Crazy, right? After spending four years in a clinical undergraduate program, four years in medical school and thousands of hours in the hospital both as a student and volunteer, of this I was certain: I am not meant to be that kind of doctor. Nowadays, I’m no longer nervous about admitting what I want. In medicine, there will be days of beeping monitors, laughing patients and conversations with colleagues. And while those are not the moments I dream of, I am content to say that I fell in love with the silence.