ATLANTA, GA – Like a caterpillar ready to mature into a beautiful butterfly, bright-eyed graduating medical students across the nation are eager to begin their impressive transformation into what this American health care system desperately needs: more totally jaded burned-out physicians.
“I don’t know what this feeling is but I don’t like it, I really don’t like it,” said medical student Priya Joseph, referring to the feeling known as hope. “I look up to my residents. They lack that feeling, they aren’t held back by it, and I want that. I so want that.”
“My med students are bursting with altruism, full of dreams, believing that people are good and that there will be a better tomorrow,” explained Atlanta University Hospital (AUH) general surgery program director Joan Blumenthal. She rolls her eyes. “Honestly, it’s getting really freaking annoying.”
For those who have never witnessed the metamorphosis in person, it truly is a sight to behold. In just a few short years, medical students break out of their optimistic cocoons and – with the help of long work hours; endless overnight calls; sleep deprivation; lack of exercise, poor dietary choices; complicated, demanding, and unreasonable patients; difficult socioeconomic scenarios; the reality of litigation; and a completely broken health care system that deters common sense, quality, and productivity – morph into creatures of unbridled pessimism and apathy.
It is absolutely breathtaking.
But what specifically triggers the transformation?
“It’s that precious moment when a resident can no longer contain their bottled up emotions,” explained psychiatrist Michael Morrison, who secretly diagnoses every intern or resident he encounters. “All that suppressed anger, sadness, frustration, despair, irritation, what have you, has nowhere left to go. What happens next is an explosion, some may call it a nervous breakdown, that ultimately leads to jadedness, a sign of a truly mature physician. It’s magical.”
Like Blumenthal and Morrison, everyone looks forward to real-world medicine slowly “breaking the souls” of those “unsuspecting, foolish med students” and reminding them that the “system is broke beyond repair” and that becoming a doctor “was a huge mistake.” They eagerly wait for these aspiring medical students to spread their wondrous wings… and then crash and burn into a fiery, molten, but gorgeous mess of debt, despair, and regret.
“It’s like watching the leaves change colors in autumn, it’s so beautiful,” said AUH internal medicine residency program director Philip Townsend. “You know you’ve made it as a physician that moment you realize medicine is effed up and you made a huge mistake by choosing this career. That’s when I know I can call you my colleague.”
Joseph can’t wait to begin the painful transformation. “There’s nothing I want more than to become the worst version of myself that is humanly possible,” added Joseph. “Isn’t that what we all want for ourselves anyway?”