Monday, December 15, 2008

Trust me, I'm a doctor...?

Usually, when I fall asleep on the subway, I wake up in time for my stop. It's kind of like clockwork - you do it everyday, so you just get used to it. But when I wake up at unusual intervals during the trip, the clock can be thrown off, which results in me missing my destination.

Today I fell asleep on the way home. A lady woke me up at York Mills because the train was delayed and everyone was getting off. As it turned out, our subway was just waiting and not out of service so we didn't need to leave. I fell back to sleep and when I woke up, the train was almost empty and was on its way back south from Finch to North York Centre. I had to get off at North York Centre and take the opposite train back up to Finch. I felt pretty stupid.


Stupid, it turns out, is the word of the week. The first few months of medical school have brought the tangy taste of inadequacy into my life. I feel swept away - bewildered by the never ending stream of new physical exam techniques we learn each week and baffled by the torrential downpour of lecture material (which is overwhelming in its sheer speed, though questionable in its thoroughness). It's hard to imagine, at this point in my education (four months in), ever transforming into one of those knowledgeable and adept creatures we call doctors.

Yet as I encounter residents and fellows, a mere smattering of years my senior, they exude confidence and competence. I'm sure with perseverance, the system will take us there, I just wish I could skip the crummy know-nothing first-year portion and skip to the knowledgeable resident stage.

For some, this is reality. Last week, we had a series of cardiology lectures by a young Korean professor. He is a third year medical student - from the perspective of medical education, only two years my senior. However, he has both a PhD and a Post-doctorate already in the bag (hence is qualified to teach). While I don't envy the many many years of school that represents, I can't help but be jealous of this fellow medical student, so learned and knowledgeable that he can teach the class.


Speaking of the rigours of medical education reminds me of another issue that has been on my mind. Diploma mills - pumping out hundreds of thousands of fake university degrees a year. They allow unqualified, dishonest people to get ahead in life: A police officer applying for a raise based on educational qualifications he does not possess. An instructor teaching RCMP combat courses based on fake credentials. A university student accepted to a prestigious law program based on an undergraduate degree they never earned. A practicing doctor who never studied medicine. These people exist... and they're everywhere.

When I went online to track down an article on diploma mills, I stopped to read some of the user comments. Many people seemed to applaud those who could advance in life using fake credentials - after all, it only demonstrates how useless real credentials are, right? These people, however, are clearly missing the point. The fact that a fake doctor practices medicine and doesn't get caught doesn't mean he's qualified to do the job - it simply means that he hasn't gotten caught. While he collects his paycheck for practicing fraudulent medicine, he may be putting hundreds of trusting citizens in danger.

Surely we don't need a reminder of how far a person can rise on fraudulent credentials? It's been only months since Dr. Charles Smith, the head pediatric forensic pathologist at Toronto's prestigious Hospital for Sick Children, was revealed as a charlatan who had inadequate expertise in pathology, and whose testimony in court of law had led to 13 criminal convictions based on his erroneous evidence. If anything, it is sad how blind we are. The fact that the undeserving con men among us can rise so far does not demonstrate their aptitude, but merely our own collective blindness - at the expense of the public good.

There is a system. A system of education and ethical standards which millions of citizens abide by. They struggle their way through years of debt, learning, and hardship. I have no sympathy for those who would usurp those hardworking men and women, reaching for a prize they neither earned nor merit. And I'll be damned if I shed a single tear when they get caught.


yubin said...

Guess who I saw in the library??

a_ndy said...


Anonymous said...

Must be Dr. Kim.