By Dr. Mim Fatmi, Psychiatry
I’d like to think a lot of us went into medicine with the intention to contribute to something bigger. For some, that may be the act of service itself, knowing that they are making a difference in the health and lives of so many people. For others, it may be making their way up to chief resident, contributing something significant to their program. Some resident physicians take on advocacy roles, some go into politics, and some simply educate their friends and family while recognizing that their voice as an MD can speak volumes.
But when we’re on the 26th hour of a call shift, getting told to finish up the paperwork and filling out page after page because “it’s protocol”; being forced to stay for morning teaching post-call because it’s “for your learning” despite knowing your brain will absorb none of it; getting pushback from colleagues about doing what’s right for the patient because it’s “not in their job description”—that’s when walking out the hospital doors you may see not just a building, but a monolithic institution, an overwhelming organization. At those moments, it becomes easy to feel cynical and feel like you’re a cog in the massive wheel that is the health care system.
While sometimes there’s no denying that we’re fighting against this giant machine, I hope we can all recognize that there certainly are opportunities to make our voices heard. With each passing stage—medical school, residency and eventual staff—I feel more and more that my voice actually means something. When opportunities to make change happen arose, I’ve challenged myself to truly consider whether it is worth carving time out of my busy resident physician schedule to contribute. And although it’s never easy when I realise I’ve said “yes” to one more thing, the sense of fulfillment that follows is always sufficiently rewarding.
As we grow smarter with each passing year, more wise, and perhaps more cynical—and as we build the expertise to inform our opinions—I think the key is to combine those opinions with effort. We all know that opinions alone do not effect change; time and effort do. There remain a lot of naysayers in medicine, a lot of jaded doctors and a lot of physicians who are completely burnt out—I wonder if what they all have in common is their strong opinions not being matched with equally strong action.
PARA is one avenue through which one can contribute to the residency body. I’m biased, but in my view it’s been an extremely valuable one in hearing out various residency challenges, providing suggestions on how to tackle these challenges, and being asked to follow through with action on numerous committees. If this doesn’t sound like quite your thing, know that there are tons of other ways for you to make a difference in residency and in medicine overall. Understand that, yes, this will take some effort on your part. But know that in contributing to something larger than yourself, your opinion goes a long way, and your voice gets heard—and you may even hear its echo bounce back, years later, in the changes you helped make happen.
Dr. Mim Fatmi is in Psychiatry at University of Calgary.