This coming Saturday my University of Toronto medical school graduating class will celebrate its 25th reunion. It seems like a good time to reflect on both the many years that have passed as well as a career in medicine. Of course I remember those early days as vividly as ever. From the acceptance letter (by mail, waiting for my parents to open it for me in another city) in July 1986 (no one today would understand why you wanted to know whether the envelope was thick or thin) to graduation in 1990, time seemed to stand still. It also helped that we got to ride along to a great 80s’ soundtrack!
Certainly four years of medical school was a very intense time. We forged many new relationships and learned a lot about ourselves as we grew through our 20s. When I see some classmates now time tends to alter perception. Class president Sal Spadafora still looks fantastic but as you can see in the picture below he was barely out of his teens. I am certain my thinning, greying hairline gives away any perception of myself as unchanged. The last quarter century has taken 250 people in different directions. Careers have been built; families have been established and nurtured. Some may have experienced hardship along the way, perhaps the passing of a loved one or friend, or battled serious illness. I have particularly enjoyed the dedicated class Facebook page to see the many paths that have been taken.
I think what I am most struck by after 25 years is how precious and fleeting life can be. It's not an insight that you have when you are in your early 20s. The world seems to be completely ahead of you and life seems endless. It ultimately does go by very fast. Twenty-five years of having the privilege to care for our patients, often with complex problems serves as a necessary reminder. It also serves as a reminder of the many ways in which we are still limited as physicians. In our current treatment culture there is an expectation to fix every problem. As time has gone on and technology has advanced I am more convinced than ever that our role as physicians includes perhaps understanding that not every problem can be solved and that perhaps the best that we can do at times is to help navigate our patients through a difficult chronic problem or simply provide an ear or be a coach. Aging brings with it certain wisdom; insights into how incomplete our skills are and why working as a physician will always be a 'practice'
Finally I might just add an observation about the role of physician in society. Certainly today's political climate, particularly here in Ontario, has left physicians often feeling disrespected and taken for granted. The online banter has become increasingly emotional. I do think those are larger issues that ultimately as a society we will need to address as we take stock of what we value as important and want to collectively resource. What I will say however is that at the end of the day a career in medicine remains a very rewarding and awesome privilege. I think the role of physician in society at a personal level, whether it is within our social circles or local community networks and certainly with our patients and their families, remains one that still engenders a tremendous amount of respect. We are allowed a central role in the very private lives of people during their most intense and often stressful days. The very nature of being a physician allows one to contemplate an evolving journey. It may be the classic 'job for life' but may look very different years later. We should always remember our unique and privileged place as time goes on. We are very lucky. I am eager to see how the next 25 years and beyond may transpire.
Happy 25th Meds9T0
Dr Sal Spadafora, circa 1986. FRCPC Anaesthesia
Room 1162. In First year Anatomy Class
U of T Medicine legend Dr Ian Taylor pays a recent visit to Andy Smith