Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Uncertain Crossroads

Last week my application for re-admission to complete my MPH (Master's in Public Health) was approved. Initially I was ecstatic because I had been talking about this moment for over a year, about how I loved/valued the program, etc. Now for the past week or so, I'm not so sure - I've been getting some cold feet and doubting whether I will actually go back and finish what I started. The conviction which I had held for the past 1-2 years is gone. And it all hinges on "uncertainty."

I am uncertain that:
1. I will get funding to finish my MPH (I do NOT want to tack on any more to my growing student loan debt).
2. I really need to finish my MPH to do what I want to do.
3. I still want to do what I had originally set out to do when I began med school.

Here's how those primary uncertainties are being addressed at the moment. 1.) I stand a fairly decent chance of getting funding via teaching undergrad courses as a grad student. It was reassuring that the professor I taught for was very willing to write me a letter of recommendation and remembers me so well. 2.) I do not need to finish my MPH to do what I want to do. Would it be useful? Perhaps, but it depends on what I end up doing. Which brings me to, 3.) Without even realizing, I've changed. I had set out to be the so-called "triple threat," that is the doctor who sees patients, does research, and teaches students. Now I'm not so keen on the research bit, haha. Also I had set out to do ID (infectious diseases), and while that's still on my career list, I've begun to shift away towards primary care or another specialty like rheumatology.

My MPH degree is very specific towards a particularly ID-oriented skill set. With my degree I would be better equipped to understand infectious diseases, conduct laboratory "bench" research, and create surveillance programs relating to infectious diseases and the agents to treat them. And prior to med school, that was one aspect I had wanted out of my career. Now I don't know.

Now a few things are certain and have remained certain (if not strengthened) over the past several years: 1.) I want my career to be clinically focused on treating patients. 2.) I want my career to have a public health/community engagement component. 3.) I want to teach students (doesn't have to be med students). 4.) I want a good work-life balance. None of those require an MPH - or more specifically, my focused MPH program.

So I'm in a bind. Will I regret later down the road for not having finished my MPH? If I get my MPH and never end up going into an ID field, will I feel like I "wasted" a year? I can see myself going either way, and neither road is superior to the other (not really, anyway). I can convince myself to go either way and I've been changing my mind on almost a daily basis for the past week. Ugh.

Talking to one attending physician who basically does what my MPH would prep me to do, he asked me, "What do you want to do?" And I said either peds or something within peds, like peds ID. And he emphatically said that I did not need an MPH to do peds or peds ID, and it wouldn't necessarily help me that much. What matters most is not how many letters I had after my name (so long as I had letters at all); what matters most is talent, hard work, and good networking. That said, if there's something I wanted to do within medicine that requires an MPH (or practically requires it), then I should definitely get it.

Anyway, what do you all think? I've talked to so many friends and several faculty, and I keep ping-ponging between the two options. I can't delay my commitment too much longer, have to make a final decision soon!

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Importance of Caring

Several days ago I came across this article, The foundation of medicine is care. Like many words in healthcare, "care" has become overused (right up there with "professionalism"). What does it even mean anymore?

We adhere to standards of care - the set of questions, actions, labs, imaging, etc that we do to diagnose a patient's problems and provide adequate treatment. We provide care to patients, to help them when they request it of us. None of this necessitates that we care about our patients. As the article argues (and I agree), this last kind of care is the most important.

Today, a distraught parent explained her daughter's "history of present illness" to the physician I am working with this week. In trying to get an accurate picture of her daughter's current illness, he asked the mom question after question to make sure he had the story right. The mom got frustrated because she's had to explain the whole thing for who knows how many times and she felt like he wasn't listening - such is the perils of an academic teaching hospital, you must tell the same story at least 3 times (and often more). The mom became so frustrated that she broke down. She was the first person I met who said how horrible this hospital was, how no one seemed to care enough to get the story right or talk to each other so that everyone's on the same page. She's not entirely wrong. Our hospital system is set up in a rather fragmented way. We provide the same standard of care (if not better) than most other hospitals, we provide good care for our patients. But we, as a system, didn't care about the patient.

Inpatient medicine is very different from outpatient medicine. In the outpatient setting, I felt that every physician actually cared for his/her patients on a personal level. I had a . . . heated discussion with my roommate about a month back. He asked me why I cared so much, why I get so worked up over a patient encounter. Really, I couldn't help it. By actually caring about my patients, not just for them, I feel like I am able to do more and am willing to try harder for them.

He didn't share my same views. For him, once he met the standard of care, he need not go further. If he couldn't get a patient to comply, then he is perfectly satisfied to give up and walk away from the situation. While in some scenarios this is indeed the correct course of action, I felt that it would be a disservice to our patients if we gave up every time they gave us even the slightest hint of grief.

Anyway, just some thoughts.