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My child, the doctor -- Oy vey!

Updated: Jan 12, 2022

By Lois Frankel

I suspect that most of us try to keep our work separate from our home life. This may be to distance ourselves at the end of the workday from the challenges of the job and allow us to focus fully on those whom we love or on our own balance and well-being.

Or perhaps the work we do is too technical to be able to share fully. I, for one, have had jobs where I’ve had to be particularly cautious around sharing my work with my child who was developmentally unprepared to understand, like when I was at an agency addressing the health of transgender youth sex workers and my five-year-old wanted to know what I did when I was away at work.

While there are many excellent reasons to share our work with our families, there are indeed many reasons to keep them apart. That’s why I was so unprepared when those two worlds slammed into each other.

After more than a decade of passion for everything environmental, my child announced as they entered college that they would be pre-med. To my dismay, I felt my heart sink. Which, for a Jewish mother, is doubly troubling - every Jew in my generation knows there is no prouder phrase worth uttering than a version of “my child the doctor.”

Yet after working in the world of health care, all that flooded to mind were the reasons why this was a bad idea.

It's at risk of becoming a more soulless space in which to work. Clinicians are juggling many demands, hours are long, suicide rates and burnout are up, and the Great Resignation is a cold reality that you just can’t ignore.

From my work nurturing empathy and compassion in the lives of everyone in health care, I just knew too much. To my credit, I managed to keep all this to myself. But I clearly needed a new way to think about it. It’s not as if my kid said they wanted to be a drug dealer; they want to heal and make a contribution to the community, after all.

Then I had one of those remarkable moments that have been the gift of the last 5 years – I recalled the perspective of their generation. Truly, my child’s peer group is coming of age in a disastrous time: climate on the edge; fissures and rage along just about every line you can name; astronomical costs for education, coupled with uncertain job opportunities to pay them back; you know the list. We are turning over a real mess to people my child’s age. And yet, they come at it full force.

Many of us were first startled into this realization by students’ response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. We stood in a crowd of thousands pulled together by teenagers who were not going to give in. Their speeches that day were deeply humbling and profoundly encouraging. Students’ roles in the Black Lives Matter movement is legend, with numerous offshoots focused on youth. And whoever thought that a teenager would be a central face of the climate movement?

While we could patronize and call their activism youthful optimism, their sophistication and brilliance at leveraging social media put them front and center on the national stage and show that it is much more than that. They mean business. They aren’t giving in. They’ll make the world better.

Of course, my generation can’t fade into the wings just yet. We still have a role to play as their generation steps up and takes power. For me, it’s serving on the 3rd Conversation team. Our experiential programs convening patients, clinicians, and administrators, bolstered by relational skill-building, will set the stage for a new world of health care grounded in and powered by empathy and compassion.

So perhaps when my child gets out of medical school and heads for the community health center that feels like the right fit, it will be.


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