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Career Story: Doctor At A Multi-Ethnic Health Clinic

Doctor At A Multi-Ethnic Health Clinic

Job Title: Primary Care Physician

Type of Company: I work for the public health system in Cambridge, Massachusetts. My practice is at a health center that serves a multi-ethnic community. We speak Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Mandarin so we have a very diverse group of patients.

Education: BA, Social Anthropology, Haverford College •• MD, Dartmouth Medical School

Previous Experience: I spent 3 years on a Navajo reservation as a general internist and then came east to join my current practice just over two decades ago.

Job Tasks: I see patients and take care of their primary needs. I am the first point of contact that patients have with the health care system. I generally work long hours: 7:30 or 8 in the morning until 7 or 8 at night isn't uncommon, but on some days I can get home as early as 6. I see patients both in the office and in the hospital. They suffer from a variety of problems, from the simplest to the most complicated. Some of the work is easy and fun, and some of it is challenging and heart-rending. It is a privilege to be given such intimate access to peoples' lives as they bring their health and psycho-social problems to my consulting rooms. I screen for hidden health problems. I treat chronic diseases. I listen a lot. I spend a lot of time negotiating with people to get them to do what I think is best for their health. I also spend a lot of time teaching patients about the diseases they're afflicted with.

In addition, I have the great joy of teaching residents and medical students. My office serves as an important training ground to help develop the skills of future doctors.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: Worst: The administration of medicine in the US is very complicated and there are a lot of pointless paperwork hassles. Also, a lot of people do not trust their doctors, and it difficult to work so hard to earn their trust. (But when you do earn their trust, it is very gratifying).

Best: Getting to know 'the whole person' and having insight into what makes people feel bad and feel better; applying science and psychology and human relations and cultural studies for the betterment of the health of the community; and having a long term relationship with individuals and families: watching them grow and change over time.

Job Tips: Medicine is not all science. You have to like science to be good at it, but you also need to be good at human relations, to have empathy, and to understand the context of disease and health. So take a lot of courses in humanities, social science, and languages! Speaking another language is a real plus. You'll get plenty of science in your pre-med courses and in medical school. Be as broadly educated a person as you can be, because that will make you a better doctor. And volunteer in a health profession so you can really see what it is like to deal with sick people before you commit yourself to the hard work of studying medicine. I also think that having an overseas experience in which you can immerse yourself in another culture is a big plus, especially if you can get to know people who are struggling with poverty. It gives you a deeper understanding of what people have to face on a daily basis when they lack resources and teaches you to be empathetic.

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