I gave birth to my oldest child in my second year of residency. That moment began my crash course in parenting. From changing diapers to pitching a baseball, he taught me techniques and survival skills I would use for years. I was a quick student in some ways: He only had to pee on me once. Other things took me longer, like when I told him to suck it up when his elbow hurt during baseball tryouts. The x-ray taken a week later showed an avulsion fracture. Each stage of his life has been an education for us.
Now he is a college student and deciding on a major. He seems to be deciding between medicine and everything else. He's quiet and not an easy read, but it is clear he is torn. He is also at a school with a competitive student body, which adds an element of pressure. He's smart and, more importantly, hard-working. At home he earned the nickname the Grinder because of his work ethic. He's also calm under pressure. In many ways he seems like he would make an ideal physician. But it's not that easy because what I think he is suited for may not be what makes him happy.
I asked him what he wanted in a career. I'm not sure if “I want to make bank” was the first thing that came out of his mouth, but it was somewhere at the top. I assured him that many careers in medicine would allow him to live comfortably, but by no means would he live like the Wolf of Wall Street. Money alone is not enough incentive to get you through all those years of training. And getting through medical school leaves most students in significant debt before they are 30. I told him there was definitely another way if money were his top goal.
Then he explained he liked sports. (In case the past decade of driving him all over the state for games didn't tip me off.) He thought it would be cool to be a team doctor. One of the things I love about emergency medicine is how it is like playing on a team. Working together to execute a great play is something that motivates me on a field and in a resuscitation room. We need to communicate like a team and support one another. Athletes of all levels definitely rely on their doctors to get them through an injury and back to the game. Depending on his field, he may relate to his patients because of his experience with sports. And shift work may give him more availability to attend those endless sporting events he enjoys.
I am biased, of course. I love what I do. I enjoy figuring out what my patients need and taking away their pain and worry. I learn something new every day. I would love to help him, discuss cases, and teach him what I know that's not in a book. He did mention that he likes helping people, and he seems to enjoy learning. Maybe it would be a fit?
It is also a career of which he could be proud. Yes, a marijuana farm would be profitable but not without causing as much harm as good. I think he would enjoy being surrounded by co-workers who motivate, challenge, and teach him.
He is currently enduring organic chemistry and biology. He feels he needs to work in a lab to get experience for medical school. He can't imagine continuing this for six more years. He is already missing his school's big basketball games to study. He's turning down fraternity functions and studying during family visits. Yes, there will be sacrifice. Despite all that, I still want to tell him it is worth it. I want him to know he'll have a lifetime of Ravens games to see, and the Phillies will be there when he is done. His friends and family will be with him day and night cheering him on as he continues to grind through.
But what if he finishes everything—med school, residency, fellowship—and hates it? What if that dream career is one I know nothing about and I keep him from finding it? What if he would be an amazing sports journalist, but I deter that? What do I do as a parent?
Ultimately, I told him it doesn't matter what he picks as a major, that he should keep going in whichever direction attracts him. He has what it takes to be successful in any career. I told him not to work in a lab if that's not for him but to work outside, work with people, try new jobs. Each will teach him something. The more he sees now, the less he will feel that he missed something later. Eventually a path will stand out, and he will look back and realize he made it on his own.
Parents are the roots; tell your children to enjoy their wings.
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Dr. Ellis is a nocturnist at Greater Baltimore Medical Center and the mother of five. Follow her on Twitter @kellyellis90.Copyright © 2019 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.