Work Ethic

Groggy after a long night on duty at the hospital, you stagger sleepily into your room.

Too tired to take a shower or even eat, you drop into bed.

Within seconds, you’re out like a light.

A few hours later, you awaken dazed and unsure. It takes a few moments to reorient yourself.

And then, you doze off again.

When you finally wake up and glance at the clock, you realize that it’s almost time to get back to work.

This is typical of how an internship year at a busy hospital goes.

So when I tell my young friends that “this is the easiest it gets”… they simply roll their eyes.

Surely this guy must be kidding, they think.

But I’m not!

It really does keep getting harder.

You see, work has different components. Several dimensions.

There’s physical work, where you perform the laborious tasks. Like collecting and delivering blood samples. Or doing dressings. And assisting at surgery. Seeing patients in the emergency unit. And more.

But there are also other kinds of work.

Like mental work.

And emotional work.

They don’t look much like ‘work’… but are infinitely harder.

It’s one thing to prepare a vial of Meropenem and inject a patient with it every 8 hours.

It’s another thing to make the decision to begin treatment.

While the first takes time and physical effort causing some inconvenience and discomfort, it pales beside

  • the mental effort of deciding when and what to prescribe, and
  • the emotional effort of facing up to what happens if you’re wrong

As an intern, the latter decisions are made for you.

You won’t have to live with the consequences of those choices.

It’s one thing to tackle the boring documentation of case notes that detail the last hours of a patient who has succumbed to illness, or not responded to your treatment.

It’s another thing altogether to break the news to a grieving family. Or to answer their questions with compassion, or assuage their guilt, or respect their sorrow. And to share with them in loss.

Most of the time, you won’t be called upon right now to do this.

But somebody will.

And it might appear as if that person has got it easy – when they really don’t.

It’s only later on in your medical career that you realize that these days, when all you were stuck with is hard, demanding, exhausting physical labor… were really the easiest part of your professional life!

Now, this isn’t meant to scare you.

Just to prepare you.

By the time you arrive at the position where you’re the one making those decisions, you will have acquired enough knowledge, experience and wisdom to make them well.

It doesn’t mean the job gets any easier. But you’ll be better prepared for it.

The reason for telling you this today is so that you get used to the idea of embracing a certain work ethic as an intern.

Everything you do in your professional capacity as a doctor is directed at your patient’s well-being.

Or at society’s improvement, indirectly.

It’s hard work.

Challenging, exciting and important, yes. But also hard work.

Even if it appears (to you) that things get easier as you become a senior doctor, that’s only an illusion.

It’s a true dictum in medical practice that your work is always the easiest it will ever be – right now.

From here, it only gets harder.

Be mentally prepared for that.

Get emotionally stronger to face it.

And be willing to embrace your reality.

It will make you a better doctor.


Have you read Dr.Sivasubramanian’s books on the making of a surgeon yet?

Read the other ‘Desirable Traits for Interns‘ here.

Published by DrSivasubramanian

Paediatric Heart Surgeon and Author - http://www.DrSivasubramanian.com

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