The phenomenon of disillusionment is well-discussed in the world of medicine. Roundabout third year of medical school, students begin to realise that the medical world simply does not live up to what they envisioned.
It is easy to say, “Just don’t have such high expectations,” but in reality a doctor without vision becomes a mindless drone. Disillusionment is discussed so widely because even though by definition it seems simple, its origins and characteristics are complex.
Funnily enough, I began to really understand disillusionment when I started club-running. Don’t be mistaken: joining a club was the best decision I could have made. It introduced me to many like-minded people and provided ample opportunity to amp my mileage.
I joined a club because I felt that I loved running enough to do so, but not long after joining I started experiencing an emotion I recognised from the medical world. I was feeling disillusioned.
As mentioned, I’ve met a lot of like-minded runners. The problem was that I (rather unrealistically) envisioned that ALL runners would be “like-ME-minded”.
When you verbalise it, it sounds so dumb; but I would wager that most people, through no fault but being fairly interested in ourselves, expect that people who enjoy the same things we do, must also think and feel the same we do about every other aspect of their lives.
The more I ran in groups, the more I encountered a variety of people. Some were so like me, and some were unlike me, but we got along, and we connected on a variety of topics. But some… were not. Some were racist. Some were anti-vaxxers. Some seemed snobbish. Some were competitive (I’m not). Some… just had views on things I didn’t agree with, and justified it with poor logic, making for poor debating partners (I like a difference of opinion if the opinion can be well-debated).
And I guess, selfishly, I was disappointed. How could people who loved this activity as passionately as I did, be such… difficult people? I felt disillusioned because in my desire for a safe space and a community, what I had really expected was an homogenous community (boring, but safe!).
It was in musing over this that I realised: it’s probably what gives rise to a lot of disillusionment in the professional setting too.
For example: when I first decided to study medicine, I had very specific goals. I believed ardently in compassionate healthcare, and I had my own mental picture of what compassionate healthcare encompassed. I had strong values and I believed that they were appropriate for the medical community.
Many of those I still believe in; that’s not the point.
I’ve become to realise more and more that the reason disillusionment tends to set in during third year (when most med students get their first proper clinical exposure) has a lot less to do with their patient-experiences and a lot more with their professional interactions. Third year is the time that a student begins to encounter on a more face-to-face level with senior students, registrars and consultants. No longer are they standing in front of the class, they are interacting personally.
And you get to know them.
And maybe you realise that they are cool and awesome people that you want to emulate.
But maybe you get to know personalities that you don’t want to associate with all. People you just don’t like, even though you respect them professionally.
For example, during my OBGYN rotation I once met a consultant who said (in so many words), “If all interns just refused to prescribe misoprostol, abortion wouldn’t be a problem anymore.” Besides being furious because his statement was incorrect based on historical evidence, I was also saddened. I had discovered that there were doctors who were my polar opposite. They were in this profession that I thought was pretty great, and I thought I was a pretty decent person, but I couldn’t reconcile myself with what they believed.
Look, the point here is not who is right or who is wrong.
The point is that no profession will give you all entirely like-minded colleagues. You will meet colleagues who disagree on even the most fundamental topics.
It is a mistake to expect that you can enter a profession – or a sport, or a club of whatever kind – and that you will find people who are just like you. In fact, thank god for that, because it would probably give rise to some horrible kind of inbreeding where we’d all massively magnify our strengths and our weaknesses both.
Maybe part of the problem is that we are all raised in thinking, “Hey, high school kinda sucks, but in college your will find YOUR PEOPLE! And you’ll all be the same and wonderful and happy. There won’t be jocks and plastics to deal with and you’ll all see the world through the same rose-tinted glasses!”
Shame, I feel sorry for us; because all we want is to belong, but somewhere along the line we have taught ourselves that to belong means to be among people who think like us; never realising how deprived such a community would be.
Now, I remind myself daily that the medical or running communities are still just that: communities. Microcosms of the world outside. And the thoughts or actions of a colleague does not reflect upon me. Being disappointed by another’s actions does not mean I have to be disappointed in my profession.
It is not the cure-all to disillusionment, but it’s a start.