When future doctors enter medical school, they’re all in for a similar experience. They’ll study hard, take tough courses and tests, and will do “rotations” – periods of assisting in different medical capacities, including everything from surgery to pediatrics. It’s during these rotations that the most important thing about our healthcare system begins to take shape: the diversity of expertise and mission that defines the medical community. A shortage of any one type of doctor is a crisis in medicine, and our health care system is lucky to enjoy the benefits of a balanced and talented diversity of doctors.
The generalists and specialists
The incredible diversity of medical professionals we need – from brain surgeons to primary care physicians – is matched by the diversity of skills that these backgrounds require. To perform brain, spine, or neurovascular surgery, a doctor must be able to learn the incredible specifics of these areas of the body – and must also have the steady hands and dextrous touch that befit a surgeon. A primary care physician, on the other hand, does not need a safe-breaker’s fingertips – but he or she does need an encyclopedic knowledge of the human body. While some types of specialists can afford to focus in on very specific parts of the body, the generalist must have big-picture knowledge about how the entire system works, and must be able to quickly pinpoint where the problems with their patients are located so that the patients can be sent to the correct specialists and surgeons.
There are no fools in medical schools, but the diverse array of skill sets needed for the vastly different career paths in medicine mean that not all doctors are equally qualified for all medical positions. Through their rotations, though, future doctors can pinpoint their strengths and their weaknesses – as well as their passions – and find the perfect path forward in medicine.
Passions and politics
Doctors’ career decisions don’t only matter because of the balance of specialists and generalists. They also matter to the healthcare system itself. The United States’ healthcare system is flawed, and it’s the subject of great debate – a debate that doctors take part in both through their words and their actions.
Some doctors, for instance, dedicate their lives and their careers to securing reliable care for underprivileged patients. Not all doctors accept government-sponsored healthcare plans like Medicare and Medicaid, but others work all their lives to ensure that the poor and elderly have access to quality care at federally qualified health centers.
This admirable mission is the calling of many doctors, while others take up positions all along the spectrum. Some doctors serve needy patients for free. Some cosmetic surgeons cater to the super-rich, while others focus on reconstructive surgery for burn victims and the victims of assault. Some doctors travel the world full-time to provide free care, while others take breaks from their regular domestic practices to head out on temporary trips with the same global goals.
A quick look around the medical community reveals all types of doctors with all types of goals. Our healthcare system isn’t perfect, but the fact that it functions as well as it does is thanks in no small part to the diversity of our medical community. Doctors from all walks of life are choosing all different ways to serve their patients, from varied specialties to different political and charitable callings. Together, they make our healthcare system function.