Over my medical career, I have seen many colleagues leave practice. A few have left the country for new opportunities. Many have narrowed their practice to their areas of special interest, such as maternity, hospitalist or cosmetic medicine.
Many have retired, and some have died.
Over a life of practice, a doctor may treat many thousands of patients, sharing the intimate details of their individual lives, spending many hours considering their circumstances and helping them achieve the best possible outcomes.
At some point, every doctor wonders if they would be missed when they are gone. My more jaded colleagues have told me that the first thing a patient asks after their doctor dies is, “Who will look after me?”
I hope that a few of my patients will remember the extra time that I gave them when they needed to talk, when what I said resonated with them or what I did had a lasting positive impact on their lives.
I wonder how many patients realize that I have treated every one of them with the same care I would want for my own family.
I recall colleagues whose contributions to our hospital, community and organizations were above and beyond the clinical work of the average physician. They contributed many unpaid hours on volunteer committees and providing services unpaid by the Medical Services Plan.
When these extraordinary colleagues left their positions, rarely were they thanked by the physicians who had benefited from their work. Others carried on as if nothing changed. Noses to the grindstone, physicians fail dismally at thanking and appreciating their colleagues.
But we don’t do what we do in order to be rewarded or thanked. We answer our calling because it is what we must do. An artist must create, a musician play and an athlete achieve his personal best.
We do what we do because it is the perfect synthesis of our values, our talents, our passions and the needs of our patients. Some of us give more of ourselves to our community because we recognize that we are just a part of a greater whole that has a potential and a future beyond our individual and limited lives.
If your days were numbered – you are at the end of your career or have a life-limiting condition, what would you do differently? How would you like to be remembered? By whom would you like to be remembered?
Would you spend more time on the computer? Send even more texts? Work overtime? Complain about traffic, the weather or inflation? Spend more time on the couch watching reality TV?
In our daily lives without the end in sight, we each have a running list of things to do, many of them mundane. If your days were numbered, would you toss out that old list and create a list of that which matters most? Would you say what needs to be said to those who matter most?
The truth is our days are numbered. We each have a sexually-transmitted terminal condition; it’s called life. None of us knows how much time we have left.
So what is on your list?