Are doctors too complacent?

It is no secret that I have wanted to become a doctor for quite some time. What may surprise you, is that I plan to make medical research my primary focus, while also practicing medicine one or two days per week. In doing so, I will be an MD/Ph.D.

This requires a laundry list of schooling: two years of medical school, four years pursuing my Ph.D, two more years to finish medical school, roughly three to five years for my medical residency, and additional training for a postdoctorate research fellowship. That’s around thirteen to fifteen more years of training after undergraduate studies.

Why tack on the additional five to seven years of Ph.D schooling?

First, understand that there is a big difference between a doctor saying, “I’m not sure what is wrong” and ending the conversation with a prescription for a drug that may or may not work, and “I’m not sure what is wrong, yet.” The latter is what all patients want to hear.

No one really expects a doctor to have all the answers immediately. Medicine is difficult. Humans possess the most complex anatomy in the world. Taken together, this often requires intense scrutiny of the body to understand and then treat ailments. Still, the former continues to serve as the narrative in modern medicine all too often.

Doctors are historically researchers and investigators who apply their curiosity to solving patients’ medical problems. This is what led to the reverence of doctors, and so many significant medical breakthroughs, such as heart repair surgeries and the discovery of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

I aspire to be a physician-scientist (MD/Ph.D) who researches diseases and injuries to the brain, as well as treats patients with neurological ailments. I want to provide the medical field with new, groundbreaking knowledge that will improve peoples’ quality of life. I want to discover something that has never been found or well-understood before. I want to take difficult cases in my practice and resolve them with findings in my lab.

My goal is to never tell patients “I’m not exactly sure what’s wrong. It could be X, Y, or Z. I’m not sure” and stop the conversation there. That’s no better than a self-diagnosis.

I, and many other physician-scientists, want to extend the conversation to “I’m not exactly sure what’s wrong, yet. But I’m going to.”


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