Entering the field of medicine

I recently read a friend’s blog and he was talking about a number of issues surrounding the practice of medicine that are more to do with the psychology of medicine, as it applies to the practitioner. He also mentioned an article written by Volker Sheid and Dan Bensky. Reading these brings to mind a number of conversations I have had with myself concerning how I practice medicine and what is most important. I will attempt to clarify some of my random thoughts here over the next couple posts so that, perhaps, the reader might gain access to the inner workings of my mind. If that doesn’t sound a little scary then sit back a moment and consider the implications of peering into the scrambled gray-matter of what I affectionately refer to as, “the empty space between my ears keeping my head from collapsing in on itself.” No, I don’t really say that, but I hope you got a little laugh out of it.
Let’s start with why a person chooses to study/practice medicine. I am often asked this question, especially here in China where many Chinese people find it comically intriguing that a foreigner would or could study Chinese medicine. I often wonder why myself! However, I think there may be something to the concept of destiny involved here.
For me, I grow up in a family where medicine was simply a part of what was done. My Father was one of the first paramedics in the US in the ’70s and later taught. My Grandmother (his mother) was a nurse, and there were other members of my family who have been involved in medicine for the centuries. My grandmother once told me that as far as she knew, medicine had been in the family for nearly 500 years, dating back to the early 1500’s. So, perhaps, I really didn’t have a choice. When I came to Chinese medicine it wasn’t because I was moved to study some ancient system of medicine, but because I had always been interested in medicine and I was (and still am) extremely interested in plants. To be honest, there was never a conscious decision, at least not at the beginning. After I started getting serious about studying, I actually considered other forms of medicine–Western medicine, Naturopathic medicine, etc.–in the end it was Chinese medicine that held me interested and my desire to use plants in medicine. I can’t speak for other people, but that is how it was for me.
When the time came for a conscious decision, I realized that there was nothing I wanted to do more and that I had never been happier in my life than when I was studying herbal medicine. But, I have heard people say that they had a good experience with Chinese medicine, so they decided to study it. I wonder about these people, especially those that do this later in life. I believe that people often don’t consider the implications of the endeavor they are embarking on. The need for constant and life-long study, the relatively low pay, the responsibility to their patients, and the other sacrifices they will need to make if they are to be effective as a practitioner. I believe that, often, people have fallen into the pitfalls of Western medicine and are thirsting for an “alternative,” “wholistic,” or “natural” solution to the modern medical calamities so many people have suffered. While this may be noble or reasonable, I do not believe that all these people have what it takes to be “doctors.” I might ask, “If you think the rigors of going to Western medical school or graduate school at a university (which usually involves learning a second language) are too difficult, perhaps you should rethink starting on the path of Chinese medicine.” So, although my decision was not very well researched. I did, of course, so some reading and investigating of schools, and it did appear at that time that the “natural health industry” was booming and gaining popularity quite rapidly. But, what I didn’t realize was that there were also a lot of people who were beginning to study at this time, and that number would grow rapidly over the next 10 years. Furthermore, the popularity has not, I don’t think, grown proportionately.
For those who make an informed and conscious decision, I believe that sometimes they are capable and sometimes, well, they can’t quite cut the mustard. While I believe that all people should have access to education, I believe that the responsibilities of being a health-care practitioner are significant and for some people these may be over-whelming. Furthermore, the need for those of us practicing Chinese medicine to also be good at running a small business is often over-looked and has led to the down-fall of many a practitioners. So, we need to be able to learn a completely different way of thinking about how the body works (as well as the biological concepts), running a small business, nutrition, herbal medicine, acupuncture, botany, medicine making, as well as other skills, and we should probably learn Chinese language. That’s a lot to learn and synthesize into clinically effective treatment.
I realize I have gone on about how much there is to learn, how difficult it is, and suggested great sacrifices that will need to be made, but I have not addressed, at least not very well, the question of WHY one chooses to study medicine, specifically Chinese medicine. Well, I will let you try to answer that for yourself. If you are in the profession I strongly suggest that you look deeply, searching for the answer to this question. I believe that practicing medicine can often challenge the very core of our being and the answer to this question may help to solidify our foundation or perhaps make it more flexible, so that when the earthquake begins we might better be able to keep our feet on solid ground, or maybe better yet better be able to adjust to the situation as needed to remain clear.
For me, I have, perhaps, taken the easy way out by suggesting that it was simply destiny, that I really didn’t have a choice. And, although this may sound like the easy way for some, it is not always easy. When I am assaulted by the trials and tribulations of practice I must dive into the true reasons such as my desire to help relieve the suffering of others, to leave the planet a better place than when I entered it, and my need to further human’s understanding of our connection to plants. Is that the case for you? What are the real reasons? And, looking at those reasons now, can you call them into question or are they as solid as ever?
I look forward to your comments.

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