It’s that time of the year. Nervous excitement is in the air and anticipation is the bead of sweat crawling inexorably along that all too vulnerable skin covering your spine. You wake up in the night with palpitations and your shoulders are twisted so tight that your patients think you have a deformity. It is that time, time to submit your application for community service.
For many doctors around the world this may be a foreign term. I know all about internship, but what is comm serve? Well, here in our quaint little politically corrupt and failing health care system we do not just one, but three years of required government service, after the six year degree, prior to being allowed to work independently or to specialize. The first two years are the internship (training under supervision – though that in itself is debatable!), followed by one year of ‘payback’ to the government for their investment in our education. Yes indeed, you have calculated correctly, that is nine years in total (and soon to be 10 for the poor younger generation to follow!)
Through the stress and anxiety (read: mental breakdown) of making this decision I was reminded of all the moments in my life where I have faced a big decision, a life changing decision where “two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both.” In grade 7 I encountered my first hurdle. I was lucky enough to have an amazing big sister who forged ahead with courage to allow timid me to follow with less fear and greater understanding of the road she had travelled. It was coming to the end of primary school and I had excelled, as only a 12 year old can, with a brown tipped nose and a hunger for knowledge. My sister, a few years older, had gone to a public high school, a great one too. But now, a few years later, my parents had a bit more financial stability and a chid with potential. I was carted off to multiple admissions testing for the top private schools in the area, and I did well. The world (well, the neighborhood) was my oyster, but my parents left the final decision to me. It was an easy decision then. Timid me imagining going to a school with no friends? No big brave sister? Weird looking brown hats? Hell no! And that was the end of my private school education. Do I regret it? Well, I would have loved to learn French and play the violin, nothing I can’t learn to do in the future! I graduated high school with double honors and became a doctor, not so bad for a public school kid eh?
My next challenge was picking my career. And I will happily admit I skidded off in the wrong direction at high speed before crashing out. While maths gets the old ticker going, business science just didn’t do anything for me. I quickly dropped out and refocused on what was important to me in a career, happiness. Chris Gardner may have found his happyness in business, but my happiness was found in books and patients and the intellectually stimulating world of medicine. Every day I get to play Sherlock Holmes. I have bad days, days when I reminisce over all the money I could have been rolling in on all the free weekends I would have had, when one mistake wouldn’t cause harm or a tough day at work wouldn’t have meant certifying a newborn. But then I remember, I am Alan Turner and my patient is enigma, and when I crack that code it feels like I have saved the world. Even though it is just one life, it is a life…and I have made a difference.
So finally after two years of internship (and yes that was an easy choice, as before I made the safe choice and stuck with what I knew) I have come to another fork in the road. This fork has been difficult as I want to challenge myself and also experience the world, a different point of view in a new city. All of my internalized thoughts of picking high schools and career options have regurgitated themselves into my brain, the tension and drama of something new, the monster lurking in the unknown. What if, what if, WHAT IF? But then, what if I do nothing, and live my life in the same hospital, the same doctors, the same town, the same view. Like Dorothy, I am ready to head out on an adventure, no doubt I will encounter a few flying monkeys on the way but I have my wizard and cowardly kitty in tow. I’m sure I will tap my crocs together thinking ”there’s no place like home” in the coming months. But…I want the perspective from eternity, and eternity starts one small step away from this life, into the next.