Every spring, I wonder, “What I was thinking?” Spring is the run-up to our Global Health Course at the University of Minnesota, which starts in early May. It has taken myself and others hundreds of hours of planning, meetings, paperwork, phone calls, and e-mails to pull this off. We are a small program considering the scope of what we do, and we rely heavily on compassionate and interested experts from around the world. Anything that takes this long to plan begs the question if all of the time input is worthwhile. But shortly after it begins in early May, it becomes clear.
Our course is made up of about 2/3 resident physicians across internal medicine, pediatrics, med-peds, family medicine, and emergency medicine, as well as interested attending physicians or providers from the local and national community. Their passion for service and inquiry, in addition to their life experiences are an inspiration. There are so many amazing people out there! To watch the course participants interact and share their experiences and knowledge with each other, in addition to witnessing them learn and experience new things through their collective, hands-on learning experience truly gives me a major boost and keeps me going through the doldrums of the administrative work required to organize such a course. I do have an academic appointment at the University of Minnesota, but like most people working in academic medicine, I spend a lot more than just the “allotted” time working on it. Global health work, both service and teaching, has been my avocation, and I am fortunate that it has become part of my vocation as well.
Don’t get me wrong – I love my job in hospital medicine. I enjoy taking care of patients at all stages of illness, and I like the mix of teaching and non-teaching work that I do while I am on service. I am drawn to inpatient clinical service, and for me it is far more than a “day job” (often both literally and figuratively). At the same time, I think it is very important for all of us to have passions outside of work that keep us motivated, help us decompress from drudgery or rough days, and provide us opportunity to impact the world around us.
Avocations and passions need not be clinically oriented or tied to volunteerism. Maybe your passion is exercise, travel, reading, or writing. Perhaps what keeps you going is working with your hands, like remodeling your house. Or maybe you work with your community, school, or faith community.
In medical school and residency, it is easy to get stuck in a rut of keeping your head down and focusing on the endgame. You can emerge from residency ready to be a physician, but there is a risk of losing yourself in the process. Avocations and passions remind us of the type of person we would like to be. I sometimes think back to the beginning of medical school 15 years ago and ask myself what 25 year-old me would think of 40 year-old me. Certainly “Younger Brett” would have had a hard time predicting my current mix of work and life, or the impact that family and illness could have. But for me, the things that I have done outside of clinical work have helped me focus even more on humanity, humility, and social justice. These are some of the things that I believe help me connect better with my patients and be a better doctor.
So, tell me. What is your passion? I hope you are following it.