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The Challenging Reality of Being a Chronically Ill Doctor

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It’s been five years since I was  diagnosed with a chronic lung disease, bronchiectasis. I was diagnosed in the second semester of medical school. So now, I am learning medicine as a medical student and also as a patient.

I chose medical school so I could have a thriving career in the long run. But after seeing the daily tasks and responsibilities of doctors, I slowly realized that being one would probably not be the best work I could do. Being a doctor is about being a professional — someone who can separate their personal life and and tireless work in healthcare. Helping patients is not an easy task. We have to master many basic skills and have a good foundation of medical science through years of study and training.

It is ironic, studying medicine and living with a chronic illness at the same time. It’s hard to give care to a patient when my own health seems to be taking a hit. I have to learn and work with patients in the hospital, yet my bronchiectasis dictates that I avoid frequent contact with people who are sick.

I remember one time, when I felt so much mucus in my lungs and had to cough it out in the middle of doing a perineal repair on a patient. Because of brain fog, I forgot to do three examinations that are standard protocol for a patient with eye problems, and wasn’t able to make a diagnosis. Seeing so many patients come to the emergency room was making me overwhelmed, emotionally and physically. Serving humanity by providing healthcare is extremely conflicting when you are not very capable of doing it for yourself.

But I’ve realized one thing: I know I don’t have to be fully healed in order to serve for the humanity.

Having a chronic illness allows me to realize that my health is something I can’t control. There are things I probably need to let go of as my chronic illness progresses, and my medical career might be one of them. When I look to the future, I think I would be ready to let go of it if I had to — just like anything else in this life. I know that a long-term career in medicine will be difficult because my health condition is so unpredictable.

I feel lucky that as a patient, I am also allowed the chance to be a medical doctor. It’s such a gift to be able to learn medicine. These are very big roles to accept and grow in. For now, I am going to continue to see what I can learn, from being both a patient and a doctor, and apply that sensitivity to everything I do.

Originally published: May 17, 2019
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