Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Career choices - doctor or pole dancer?

“Papa what’s a pole dancer?”
I choke on my cup of coffee and take a full minute to compose myself before intelligently replying with my trademark “Duh?!” accompanied with a couple of raised eyebrows.
I hear the sounds of plates falling on the kitchen floor. Apparently my wife has heard the interesting question too.
“You and mama were talking something about it yesterday” The young lady clarifies.
Oh that. The latest ‘viral’ thing going about in the circle of Indian doctors these days is a lovely piece written by Dr Roshan Radhakrishnan….all about why he would never allow his child to become a doctor. He even goes on to mention that he wouldn’t mind her being a pole-dancer, but never a doctor (with the little qualifier –‘in India’)
“It’s like a dancer who uses sticks” I fudge, like you normally would to an 8 year old. By now reinforcement arrives in the form of my bitter-half, who changes the channel on the ever-running TV in the background to cartoon network (from Arnab going red in the face demanding ‘India wants to know’ something as usual) to distract my daughter’s attention.
“Oh…I thought it was one of those ‘badly’ dressed ‘aunties’ dancing around a pole” She innocently returns to the more serious business of watching Oggy and the cockroaches (with Oggy doing that irritating Shahrukh Khan accent as usual).
Both me and my wife remain in suspended animation, mouths half  open for a minute.
OK. The point is kids these days are much smarter than we ever were. You really don’t need (or can) tell them what to do with their life. If they are really in the mood they may just indeed become a pole-dancer, a dacoit, a politician (in increasing order of notoriety I guess)……or even a doctor. And you never know, 20 years down the lane that idiot Aamir Khan might come back in Satyameva Jayate season 23 claiming that pole-dancers are the biggest scourge affecting the balanced growth of the nation. What is important I guess is to try to give a balanced opinion regarding your kid’s career choice…but let them decide things ultimately…and once they do, just support them wholeheartedly.
I return to my coffee and my wife get ready to return to the kitchen to her ‘weapons of meat destruction’ (the menu - ‘chicken-something-something ’ apparently is something outsourced from a Whatsapp group of her friends from medical school days who very humbly call themselves ‘masterchefs’.....that’s a story for another day though)
“So you guys earn less that these pole-dancer guys?” return of the motor-mouth.
Technically I suppose that should be pole-dancer girls, but in these days of gender equality....
Wife parks herself back into the sofa with a helpless look, I choke again on the coffee.
“Um, well...it depends” I say ““Most doctors make more money than most pole-dancers I think”.
The way starting salaries are going for junior doctors in India I might have to revise that comment though. I’d like to ask my wife how much a good pole-dancer makes, but I suppose I would get bludgeoned on my head with a pole, so I drop the idea.
Doctors do have a tough life….especially in the period right after their graduation. There is a lot of work, a lot of insecurity regarding the future and very little money. This is the period when a good percentage of doctors start wondering why the hell they are doing what they are doing.  When I was doing my internship (where you 48 hour shifts were quite common)  I had to survive on a monthly stipend of around 2000 bucks…..my friends in engineering were by now into five figure salaries. The 2000 bucks of course would last about half a month, after which it was something on the lines of ‘Papa..pyaar ke naam pe kuch de de papa’ or ‘Mama, pyaar ke naam pe kuch de de mama’…..and usually mama or papa did respond favourably to the undisguised begging ….not so much because of the ‘pyaar’ thing, but because they wanted to get this irritating ‘pyaar ki nishaani’ of theirs out of their hair. Pretty much the same during the residency too….salaries were in the range of 4000 to 5000 Rs, which could just about make ends meet (ends of course including the mandatory weekly dinners and  first day-first shows )….and it continues even after the residency till a couple of years at least when you finally settle down in a good hospital or get a stable private practice going or end up in the ‘gelf’ to make money in Riyals or Dirhams (the last one especially if you are a mallu).
“Is it easier to be a pole-dancer or a doctor?” She seemed possessed by Arnab’s spirit.
“Every job needs a lot of training” I answer philosophically “Doctors need to train longer and much harder though” . Wifey seems to have a strange expression on her face. The “I’ve given up on both of you” kind....which is quite usual in our house anyway.
But pole-dancing I suppose does not require an entrance test at every level where hundreds of rats compete in a rat-kill-rat free for all. And when you do get through you have to face a hundred assorted exams, a equal number of thick text-books and  crazy examiners (exposing you to an incredibly delightful variety of sado-masochism....the only thing common being that you are the passive partner). At the end of all this you can’t really blame doctors for kind of hoping to be treated with a bit more respect and of course being paid  a bit more....it is strange how people would not mind dishing out a few thousand bucks to service their car, but an extra hundred on the doctor’s bill is met with all kinds of nasty remarks about the ‘greedy doctor’.  Incidentally defensive medicine is the in-thing mainly because no doctor wants to labelled as the guy who missed a diagnosis. So they end up ordering all kinds of tests just to get things documented....something which would normally not have been done a few years back when patients simply trusted their doctors much more.

“So who is happier finally? The pole-dancer or the doctor?” Seems like the lady was into her concluding argument
“Hmmmmmm” Now that was the most difficult question of the lot.
Happiness is quite relative (basically I am happy even if I am in deep shit as long as the ‘other guy’ is in deeper shit)
I finished my MBBS in the year 2000 and in our batch of around 200 students I would say that more than 90% are pretty happy with where they’ve reached and what they’re doing – both in terms of professional satisfaction and financial security (at least going by the Jaguars and Audis on display in our last reunion) and honestly as far as job satisfaction is concerned I guess being a doctor out-scores most other jobs (even more so if you are into teaching I guess).So yes, most doctors are happy and most doctors do have some regrets....which is pretty much what you get in any other profession too.
And of course you have a higher chance of being sued, beaten up or both if you are a doctor. I mean theoretically it would be a bit difficult to sue a pole-dancer for negligence I guess. The beating up part is getting quite common in India these days. I sincerely feel that martial arts should be one of the compulsory subjects in the medical curriculum......along with communication skills. Most ‘beating up’ incidences are usually traced to poor communication skills...but if things get bad anyway the martial arts should come in handy. Jokes apart, doctors are human beings and they can make mistakes. If they work under fear getting man-handled for every mistake, quality of medical care will naturally suffer. It’s like trying to talk to a pretty girl with your wife watching. You would never do it properly and would anyway get a dose from your wife at the end. Doctors need to work under better security and it is really important the ‘doctor beaters’ are dealt with promptly and properly. We are almost scaring our next generation into not choosing medicine even if they have a passion for it......
Actually any wannabe doctor I suppose is quite aware of all the problems associated with choosing a medical career. More so now, with the net and networking savvy present generation. So in spite of all these negatives  if my daughter still wants to be a doctor, so be it …and I’ll support her in anyway I can. Besides getting into medicine is not really like the Mumbai underworld where once you’re ‘in’ you simply cannot leave. I have quite a few friends who finished their graduation in medicine and then moved to totally unrelated fields like business management and even software engineering (Maybe easier said than done but basically isn’t this what most engineers these days do?….they muddle their brain  4 years studying core engineering concepts and then end up writing code or doing business administration).
All said and done, we doctors will always be under a bit of extra scrutiny because ultimately we deal with human beings...not machines, but then that is exactly why each day in medicine is an interesting adventure in itself...because human beings have so much of variety unlike machines.
One lil piece of advice I would like to give to wannabe doctor is to choose your specialty wisely. Many young doctors get that extra bit frustrated because after all this trouble they go into a specialization without being really sure if they have an aptitude or a passion  for it and later find that they just can’t handle things. So basically do what you have a passion for. An old friend used to tell me that it doesn’t matter whether you are a space scientist or  a sweeper…what is important is how well you do your job. Another thing is always make time for your family, friends and of course yourself. Keep a hobby for stress relief, take a  vacation once in a while, read normal books too once a while...and generally try to smile a few times each day.
I always tell my students that being a doctor is never going to be easy……it wasn’t meant to be…you will always have unsatisfied patients, scratchy colleagues, irritable bosses and Aamir Khans……but somehow every grateful patient that you treat makes up for all these negatives. So be proud of the fact that you are a  doctor…. keep healing and keep smiling (and keep ignoring the Aamir KhansJ..they’re simply not worth it!)


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