It was 11 years ago today. The time was around 3 pm. In the blistering heat of the Lahore sun, a small crowd of us hopefuls gathered at King Edward Medical College. We were there to get our result for the Final Professional examination. This would be the day we would find out if we had become doctors!
And then it happened. Clutching a sheet of paper in his right hand, one of our class fellows emerged from the clerk’s office. Pushing and shoving, the crowd gathered around him as he read aloud the contents of that fateful results sheet. One by one he would read out a roll number and then the marks scored. Every once in a while, the total marks would be followed by the name of a subject, thus delivering the crushing news of a failed examination to the person in question. One by one he read out the roll numbers. Unable to wait, I climbed over someone’s shoulders to try to see my result for myself. I caught a glance of my roll number, and on the second attempt I saw the result as well. I had passed! I was a doctor! A student no more! The rest of that day is a foggy memory of celebrations and ‘mithai’ and parents crying with joy.
Looking back, that unceremonious announcement of the MBBS exam result was in fact quite appropriate. It is clear to me now that becoming a doctor is a journey and not a destination. That day, when the result was announced, we were only just beginning on our own individual journeys of house jobs, qualifying exams, night calls, specializations and even more exams. What’s more, we were yet to feel the immense burden of a patient’s hopes and expectations. Experience teaches many lessons, and we had plenty to learn. Today, a decade later, many of the young doctors from that day have met with professional success. They are spread all over the world, with a varied and impressive collection of post-graduate degrees. Some are working towards their post-graduate degrees, and some, who decided not to pursue post-graduate degrees, have built busy general practices.
All of this would be great, except for one tiny detail. Somewhere along the way many of us developed an attitude of entitlement. All of that suffering, all of those night calls and 30 hour duties should count for something after all. Unfortunately that entitlement and the arrogance that ensues is often the beginning of the end. The most important lesson, the one not taught often enough in medical college, is that more than all of our qualifications, the thing that matters most is that we actually listen to our patients. The degrees decorating the walls of our offices mean nothing to our patients if they are not accompanied by attention, compassion and care. It is this bond of trust between the doctor and the patient which must be built and strengthened with every interaction. Only then can we expect our patients to give us the respect that we think our qualifications and hard work entitle us to.