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The Wise Doctor

My good friend and roommate during our first year of medical school, Ann, was one of the smartest students in our medical school class. She planned to go into pediatrics and specialize in neonatology. She was super smart- brilliant, actually-so, taking care of the smallest, sickest babies who would require the highest level of care was a perfect fit for her. She has gone on to have phenomenal success in her career and no doubt has saved hundreds, if not thousands, of babies' lives. I often reflect back on something she said to me that was very wise. She told me that by highly specializing in neonatology (a practice which consists of managing a long, but fairly well-defined, list of disease processes and conditions of the newborn), she felt that she would be better positioned to master her craft than if she remained in general pediatrics. She knew herself well enough to know that mastery was an important value to her, and she had determined that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for her to master all there was to know about general pediatric care (well and sick kids from birth to age 18). So, she made the wise choice to become a "master" of neonatology.

Neither Ann nor I had children during medical school, but we both do now. I haven't discussed it with her lately, but my hunch is, after raising two children of her own, she would continue to maintain that one can never master the art of caring for and meeting the needs of all children- from birth to 18. We, as parents, simply have to accept our role as "jack of all trades, master of none"- hoping and praying that our best is good enough.

As for me, I chose to go into Family Medicine (a practice which consists of managing the healthcare needs of people from birth to death) and as it turns out, being the "jack of all trades, master of none", is the "specialty" of the Family Physician. I realized pretty quickly into my career that I would never master all there is to know about taking care of all people from birth to death, and I have prayed regularly that my best will be good enough.

Unfortunately, I know that I do fall short. My knowledge, effort, determination, compassion, strength, and experience are sometimes just not enough, and my patients are left wanting and needing more. In fact, I find myself wanting that too- to "be all and do all" for my patients, colleagues, family and community. On the other hand, the older and more seasoned I get , the easier it is to accept the fact that as a family physician, I simply won't become a master of my trade- it's too broad and it changes too quickly. Certainly my role as a family physician is very important, but "mastery" is not part of my job description.

In fact, it makes me mad when I hear people implying that doctors have a "God complex"- having inflated feelings of personal ability, privilege, and infallibility. I think to myself, 'that's certainly not me or most of my friends or colleagues- that's just a few bad apples making the rest of us look bad. ' And yet, if truth be told, when I step back and take an honest look at my life as a physician, I now see something that I didn't really want to see before. I see that even though I've always recognized that I absolutely don't know everything and I definitely am not infallible, I'm often caught trying to prove otherwise- perhaps that I know more than I know or that "I've got this"- when, in actuality, I may or may not. I justify thi