Monday, September 8, 2008

A good economist

Pauline Chen wrote a recent article in the NYTimes titled "Medical student burnout and challenge to patient care" which can be accessed here:
In a nutshell, she cited many studies that show medical students are burnt out, while a smaller but significant percentage considered suicide in the past year. Apparently, many of the reactions were to stop crying like a baby and suck it up, like hundreds of people who went to law school, business school, and other schools that potentially require hard work and perseverance.
One thing they don't understand is that the burnout is barely from the long hours, the lack of sleep, the constant need to proof ourselves and to not get yelled at. I think the most significant cause of the burnout is really the nature of our job - it is the fact that everyday, even as a medical student, you could potentially kill a human being or save a life. And at any moment, you could watch someone die right in front of your eyes and there is nothing you can do about it. I have watched people die and it is taxing. It is difficult to watch life slip away, and it is that much harder to have the patient's family looking at you for what they want to hear and not being able to pacify them. Many times they want to hear that it is time to pull the plug, because the fight is too taxing for them. Other times, they want us to tell them why it was their loved ones who died, and no lesson can prepare you to deliver these answers. How do you learn to tell someone that it is time to end the life of their loved ones?
From those in the medical profession, some of the reactions were to stop crying like a baby and suck it up, like hundreds of doctors have before us, but I fear they only survived because they desensitized themselves. They simply stopped crying when people die.
But I think we should cry every time our patients die, because for a while we took care of these people and we knew part of their life stories. We should cry because we should never forget the impact on the family and relatives when our patients are gone - nothing should ever minimize the enormity of a human life.
For a bad day at work in other professions, you might cost your company 10 million dollars. A bad day at work as a doctor, someone dies. I guess for some, one is not necessarily worse than the other, depending on how much a human's life is worth, but to me, a human life is priceless, and that's why I can never be a good economist.

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