“Why do I do what I do?” This is a question I’m sure many of you have asked yourself at one time or another. Who hasn’t been asked the question, “Why did you become a doctor?” Obviously, I can’t answer for you, but I can for myself and my answer, hopefully, will resonate with many of you.
Years ago, when there were no limits on work hours in residency; when hospital call meant 36 hour stretches without sleep; and when only a “wimp” called their attending in the middle of the night, I would have answered this question much differently than I do now. I would have said, “I want to help people; I like challenging things; I enjoy learning new things; I want to make a good living….” There’s nothing wrong with these answers. But as the years went by medicine began to change. The patients were older, sicker, more complicated, with more technology to care for them. I found myself working harder and longer, seeing more patients just to maintain status quo. These answers were no longer enough to keep me going. I began to question why I did what I did. My answers had become shallow, superficial. Then I did my first medical mission to Guatemala in 2000 and my life irreversibly changed. I’m not saying you need to be doing a mission trip. I am simply saying that for me, this was the catalyst that changed my answer to that question.
What was that answer? It was the simple realization that I wanted to make a difference, whether in the life of one person, many people, or something much bigger. The desire to make a difference, I believe, is innate to us in one degree or another. What does this look like? For me, it was making a difference one life at a time. That one person can in turn make a difference in the lives of others in ways we may never know. I love the old African saying, “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try spending the night in a closed room with a mosquito!” More powerfully, I love the quote from Mother Teresa:
“We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”
There are people who have done truly great things but most of us do “only small things”. It is how we do the small things that make a difference - love and serve others; bring hope where there is no hope; and, when all else fails medically, be willing to simply be there for that person, to hold them, and even cry with them. In the busyness and hard-work of medicine, these may seem insignificant, but they are not. They can sustain you when the answers of the past no longer do. You make a difference to each of our patients and for that I thank you!
Andy Lamb, MD