• Nathan Riley, MD

Life as MD

Updated: Jul 20, 2019

I’m a young doctor. At the time of this blog’s creation, I was at the end of a four-year OB/GYN residency training program. The nature of this work— nerve-grinding passive aggression; the lack of compassionate, patient-centered care; unrelenting, unrealistic expectations — led me to pursue fellowship in hospice and palliative medicine, where the well-being of a physician is as critical as that of the patient. As a result, birth and death are my areas of expertise.

To choose a career in medicine is to choose a difficult path. If I were smart (and driven solely by a paycheck), I would have pursued business like most of my friends. Physicians are neither fabulously compensated nor healthy despite society’s perception. Sure, certain sub-specialties reap financial rewards for their generous societal compromises, but, in general, medicine is not a get rich quick scheme. In exchange for decent pay, we sacrifice a lot. Our youth. Our relationships. Our health. Our time.

On the surface, birth and death seem disconnected, though, as I have the privilege to attend both death and birth within hours of one another, I would be amiss to not argue the latter.

Birth and death conspire, conflating in the same dark space, dragging our spirits to the depths of mortality. Perhaps this is why we prefer not to talk about death nor birth around the dinner table. Or perhaps why we choose to shield children from child birth and hospital beds.

My life experience naturally filters through the convergent lens of birth and death. After all, as I approach my own death, there’s little that I want to leave behind in regret, and life’s most important lessons are usually derived from experiences with birth and death, through love and loss, and out of suffering and ecstasy.

My general experience with humans is two-fold:

1. We prepare wholly inadequately for death. 2. We act against our best interests on an hourly basis. We eat food that makes us sick. We overemphasize the importance of work over play. And we forsake urgency at the expense of gratification.

Embrace life now, because you never know when things will turn south, and that when you look death in the eyes, you will be prepared to embrace them.

Memento mori.

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