Wondering why fewer choose medical careers

I’ve just read a provocative article by syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, who isn’t carried by any local papers in our area. (I’m always so grateful to far-away folks who keep me informed about things I might totally miss otherwise.) This recent column is titled “The Doctor Is (Not) In,” and bears an alarming subtitle: “Too few young people are going into medicine.”
A small number of my own doctors today are Jewish. I didn’t pick them because of that; it just happens that they are specialists on my current health plan. But Jewish doctors were a staple of my life until I married and moved away from my hometown. I think that was because my father was a doctor, and whatever I needed was always taken care of by one of his friends. I wonder now if medicine was a second career choice for some of them, as it was for my dad.
He wanted to be an engineer, and his first professional degree was in architectural engineering. But after graduation, he learned rather quickly that Jews were not welcome in that field; in those days, prospective employers asked prospective employees their religion, and Judaism was not on the approved list. I guess that wasn’t quite as blatant as “No Irish Need Apply,” but it was just as effective for exclusion. My father actually got a job with a company that just plain forgot to ask; however, when someone remembered and posed the question, he wouldn’t lie, and that was the end of his engineering career. “The only security for a Jew is to be his own boss.” That’s what he said at the time, and in order to do that, he returned to school and became a physician.
(That silent ban on Jews being hired as engineers continued for many, many years. When I was a college student in the mid-‘50s, we used to call accounting and business administration “Jewish engineering.” We were laughing about it then, but it wasn’t a joke…)
My father’s medical specialty became diagnostics – the closest thing in his second field to his chosen first, because he could study the body the way he would study a blueprint to figure out how all the parts fit and should work together. Then he was able to diagnose many illnesses that other doctors could not, and became known in his medical community for that elusive skill. But he was also known as the only doctor who – in those precious few moments between patients – would be reading Architectural Digest, the magazine that to this day deals with how individual building parts fit together rather than unitized structures.
In Russia, when women were the medical majority, it made medicine something of a second-class profession. In the U.S., women weren’t welcomed into it for many years; they were like Jews who wanted to be engineers. To this day, I am friends with the one woman in my college class who went to medical school; she never told anyone – not even her own mother – that she had applied until after she was accepted.
She is now retired after a long, successful career in child psychiatry, an “OK” field for a woman. Not Jewish herself, she has followed those in her class who were; one of the best left medicine to become president of a prestigious university whose specialty is engineering.
Has inclusion “cheapened” medicine as a career choice? Or are fewer young people choosing it because doctors are no longer looked upon as caring healers, but as cogs in the wheel of “a nationwide system in which the ruling denizens are huge corporate entities…”? Whatever – the Association of American Medical Colleges projects a U.S. shortage of 105,000 doctors by the year 2030.
Who remembers, today, “First do no harm”? Today, STEM is the mantra of professional education, an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Perhaps sadly, the M does not also encompass Medicine…

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