Passenger in 17C.

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Of all the possibilities of people sitting next to me on the airplane, I sit down next to a doctor. He quickly discovered my career goals and he asks me, “You sure about that?”. He proceeds to tell me, without hesitation, that medicine is not what it used to be. He matter-of-factly explained the declining state of health care, and that choosing to be a doctor is nothing less than detrimental. He’s a specialist, you see, and the pay cuts he has faced have left him scraping by, when he should be living luxuriously. I listened while he talked, and noticed his wife and three children sleeping in the adjacent aisle. I considered the struggles this man must be facing, as he told me that 200K simply doesn’t pay the bills. “Sure, as a student, 100K sounds wonderful! But it’s statements like that that are ruining health care”, he explained.

And I couldn’t help but wonder, will that be me one day? Vacationing to a tropical island with my family, expressing that it just doesn’t cut it? I realize his predicament: expectations are not being met. He expects to have luxury cars, an oversized house, private schooling for his children, and early retirement. In fact, he deserves it, because of the time and commitment he has given to medicine. “In this day and age, a PA right out of school could come within $100,000 of what I’m making! Isn’t that absurd?” he asked me.

I remained quiet, because there was too much I wanted to say and I knew if I opened my mouth, it would gush out uncontrollably to ensure a very awkward three hour flight. He ended his rant and jokingly apologized for having to be the pessimist. I smiled and replied, “Believe me, you’re not the first.”

I wanted to tell him that I’ve been living off a college student’s income for four years, and I can’t imagine being happier. I wanted to tell him that I’ve spent the last year at the bottom of the totem pole, caring for others medical needs, and the satisfaction I felt was indescribable. I wanted to share that I want a small, cozy house instead of wide, gaping foyers and limitless hallways. I want simple clothes, a reliable car, and soundness of mind knowing that I will still have a job tomorrow. Sure, I want to travel and serve in rural clinics around the world: and that costs money. But to tell me that I’m crazy for my desire to be a doctor, simply because the money isn’t good enough for you?

There is so much I wanted to let you know, sir. But I didn’t tell you. So while you’re laying on a gorgeous beach feeling like the world has betrayed you, I wanted you to know:

You do not pursue medicine for the money, period. If I wanted to be rich, there are a hell of a lot of ways that require a lot less time and money and effort. Do you really think that I don’t know there is an easier route? I refuse to let my goals be fueled by crumpled paper and colorful, glossy items. I want to feel the exhausted satisfaction of coming home and knowing that at least one person’s health improved that day because of me. I will literally pay to serve in an intolerably humid and cramped clinic, just to help one person that feels like the world forgot about them and left them in a dusty corner of the world. I will not become addicted to counting dollars instead of feeling joy from healing someone’s sickness. That will not be me.

Yes, I know that this decision requires a lot of commitment and consideration. And it sounds like you skipped that crucial step of soul-searching and cost/benefit analysis during your education, because you would make an excellent hedge fund manager.

But me? Nah. I’m going to make a damn good doctor.

Waiting.

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I could feel a breeze of subtle defeat from the moment I stepped on the dusty ground of South Caicos. The succession of booms and busts that have plagued the economy here have left a stale taste of struggle and conflict. The streets feel barren and abandoned, lined by faded houses splattered with plywood boards across windows and doors. Spiny dogs run wild across the island and locals sit behind lonely grocery counters or parched in the sun, waiting for something. Then the rush of the ocean’s pristine beauty hits you: miles of crystal clear, turquoise waters filled with some of the best coral reefs in the world. The islands sit like small clumps of dirt, forgotten by the salt trade and raked clean from their prospering drug trade. The islander’s eyes are openly friendly and welcome to us, but I still notice them look towards the horizon. Waiting.