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Point of View

In the March issue of In Vivo, Dr. Saundra Curry, clinical professor of anesthesiology, wrote a Point of View column about the trend toward making medicine more lifestyle-friendly. Here, a P&S student talks about what it was like growing up as a child of doctors at a time when "lifestyle" and "doctors" were rarely used in the same sentence.

We often talk about the sacrifices physician-parents make in losing time with their children, but rarely is the same problem looked at in terms of the sacrifice made by the child of physician-parents. If spoken of in that context, it is usually from the perspective that being the child of a doctor is a detriment to the child, perhaps even the root of some psychosocial or psychological crisis. As the child of two very diligent physicians – my father a urologist in private practice and my mother an academic physiatrist with a 45-minute commute – I would like to view the subject in a different light, the one in which I saw the situation as a child, remembered now as an adult and a medical student myself.

When we were young, my three sisters and I thought of ourselves as members by extension of the health care team, just like any spouse or other human support of a medical worker – although I would not have been able to express it quite this way as a child. At age 5, I can remember almost proudly acknowledging to myself and to others that Mommy or Daddy couldn't make it to my soccer game because he or she was going to make a sick person better. Admittedly, my feelings on the subject were not always so benign. My sisters still remind me of the discontentment I managed to sustain when my mother had to miss my second-grade Mother's Day play to take the Boards (perhaps the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation now takes such dates into consideration when scheduling exams). In truth, almost all of my childhood between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. were spent either in school, after school activities, or with my babysitter. A few of my college friends, I know, shared similar experiences, but mine and my sisters' situation was entirely unique in elementary and high school.

The question is: Did we suffer because of our unique situation? On paper – I don't think so. My older sister is a lawyer, my twin an MBA student and former Division I athlete, my younger sister is an undergraduate at a prestigious school for the visual arts, and I am here at P&S. Emotionally, our consensus is also "no," largely because we always knew that we were such a priority for our parents. Any moment not spent at the hospital was instead taken up by basketball, piano lessons, horseback riding, or the band parents association. As an adult, it is a comic, but also sincere, realization on my part that for 28 years my mother and father had absolutely no lives of their own. And for all my young and adolescent life, both their situation and mine seemed entirely normal.

One of the first things I learned in medical school is that my childhood situation was not, or at least should not be considered, normal. As early as orientation, my class was bombarded with issues presented by the reduction in residency work hours and the seeming preponderance of medical school students wanting to go into the so-called "lifestyle" specialties. I felt utterly bewildered. This was not the philosophy with which my parents had approached their careers; it was a denial of the principle that had justified my own sacrifices as the child of two physicians. I had always believed that this pursuit, the care of the sick and the wounded, was supreme. Medicine was not a career, it was a passion. Or, as so many like to say, a calling. To consider it anything less undermined all of my patience with my parents as a child and young adult, and the similar concessions made by all the other sons and daughters who, like me, had been raised as doctors' children. Could it be that we were duped?

Frankly, I do not know enough about the practice of medicine to comment on the care-related issues presented by reduced residency hours. I cannot say whether practicing physicians should work more or less hours, and I do not yet know what my own plans will be in this regard.

What I feel compelled to write about is the one and very enduring legacy that all those committed "Dr. Moms" and "Dr. Dads" have left us with – passion. While the love of one's profession does not take precedence over the love of one's family and friends (or rather, I do not think the two should be compared, even though their claims on time often conflict), the former is important, too. Indeed, I would argue that every member of our famed 50.8 percent female applicant pool in the class of 2007 nationwide is the philosophical child of the physicians – especially the women – who made time in their lives to care for their patients and love their families. They make us believe. They challenge us to imagine and to create our own careers, and to touch the world with our own effort and vision. And though we may tweak the design on which they patterned their lives and the lives of their children, we should remember to commend them for all that they have done right. We are, after all, in the earliest stages of pursuit of the same dual passion.

Melissa Ann Walker P&S'07 is from Suffolk, Va. and attended Duke University. "I am currently considering a lot of different specialties," she says. "It's too early to say which way I'll eventually go because everything that's put in front of us interests me!"