Magazine article The Progressive

A Letter to a Young Doctor

Magazine article The Progressive

A Letter to a Young Doctor

Article excerpt

SO YOU WANT A CAREER IN medicine. You've got a lot of options, including all the specialties, primary care, research, and teaching. You're weighing many factors, such as salary and job security.

But by far your most important challenge will be finding work that will capture your heart. Satisfaction comes out of a sense of accomplishment, a camaraderie, a legacy of knowing that you contributed to something greater than yourself.

You need to find a passion, a cause you can commit to. We physicians are humans. We see, we feel, we strive to understand. We pledge ourselves to alleviate suffering and sickness. So we should also address the social, cultural, and political causes of our epidemic ill health.

You need not just a practice, but a calling. And you might find it far away from the cushy confines of a medical group in the United States.

I have found my calling in a setting half way around the world: East Timor. Exciting and challenging work is nothing new for me. I spent seven years with Cesar Chavez in the grape fields of California, and for three years, I served as a district medical officer in newly independent Mozambique, where I was the only physician for 200,000 people in what was then the poorest country on Earth.

Fifteen years ago, as I searched the world for meaningful commitment, General Suharto, the thirty-year dictator of Indonesia, fell from power. Black bag in hand, I left Cedar Falls, Iowa, and headed for Dili, East Timor.

The people of East Timor were oppressed by Portuguese colonialism for 500 years, and then, in 1975, when they declared their independence, Suharto and the Indonesian military trampled on them. But by the late 1990s, the people of East Timor were again asserting their independence, and I lent myself to their cause. I had a two-year stint as a one-man M. …

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