I just finished reading When Breath Becomes Air- a book written by Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a young neurosurgeon who at 37, at the peak of his career, was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. It is a sad and beautiful book exploring the question of what makes life meaning amidst morbidity and impending mortality.
His insights as a medical student and eventually as a resident concerning a physician’s roles and responsibilities to his or her patients are not only eye-opening but also affirming reminding me that the medical profession is never merely a job but a calling in which all those who aspire for it must remind themselves every day lest they become calloused and jaded in the tedium and demand of hospital work. He has reminded that patient-doctor relationship is never just that. Rather, doctors have the special responsibility of guiding their patients through what could possibly be a life-changing illness and carry them through it whatever the outcome would be. Of course, doctors would always strive for a positive prognosis or even perfection in execution and technicalities, but such is not always the case in real life and the reality is that perfection is unattainable. Nevertheless, Dr. Kalanithi encourages his readers to believe in an asymptote toward which we can ceaselessly strive for.
Even now, I still struggle in finding meaning with my being in med school. Even though the first few months have been terrible, the last few weeks of the first semester have graced me with a glimmer of hope allowing me to at last, once again, feel a tad bit of enjoyment in the endeavor that is med school. While Dr. Kalanithi asks, “What makes life meaningful?”, I ask a similar yet different question, what makes medical school meaningful?
I cannot wait to find out.