David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | [email protected]

One of my old students is preparing for an exam. Apparently the results will determine where she gets to practice medicine or what kind of medicine she gets to practice or something else of consequence. It’s not clear to me. Honestly, I no longer understand a word this woman says. When she talks about this medical exam, I hear Charlie Brown’s teacher.

I have known this student since she was in ninth grade. Frankly, she made a lot more sense then. And don’t even ask me what material will be covered on this exam. I’m pretty sure she said something about kidneys, or possibly diphtheria, and then I faded out again. I love hearing from my old students, but I wish they would at least try to communicate when they talk.

After blathering on about bacteria–or was it, osteoporosis?–she did say one thing I understood: “I got so much studying done this morning before the sun came up that for the rest of the day I was playing with house money.” Apparently, if you are going to study 10 or 12 hours a day, hitting the books at 7:00 am is a thing. It seems there is a lot to know about aortic aneurysms.

But let’s talk about me. I did not get up at 7 o’clock this morning to immerse myself in a volume where words like “blood“ and “gastrointestinal distress” are bandied about like tofu dogs at a California picnic. I did not get up yesterday morning at seven a.m. to learn all there is to know about diabetes and whether or not the hip bone is indeed connected to the back bone. I am not waking up at seven a.m. tomorrow morning to learn any of this unappealing information either. Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus will have to get along without me.

You can reward, motivate, punish, incentivize me. You can shove me in a dungeon and promise to free me when I can tell you the difference between Thalassemia and Abyssinia and I will be imprisoned indefinitely.

Because my knowledge of and interest in all things bile related is lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut. I’m just not motivated. To be perfectly frank, I find information about body parts and illnesses to be disconcerting. I’m glad my doctor and my old student know what an epiglottis is. I have no wish to share this knowledge.

You have to love medicine to study medicine. Your motivation has to be deep. Your motivation has to be intrinsic. Your motivation has to come from within. Your motivation might even have to be so profound as to be in the vicinity of your intestines–where ever those are. If, on the other hand, you would rather study something other than medicine, come over and sit by me. We have a lot or great topics to discuss–math and literature, for example–none of which will necessitate subsequent hand washing.

Which is not to say that math or literature is for everyone either. Only that no one can effectively coerce you to study that which you find truly unpalatable. We would do well to allow our beloved children to find their own way, to study that which has meaning for them. Because the last thing you want is a doctor who feels the way I do about squirmy innards. To the contrary, you want a doctor who enjoys getting up at seven in the morning to learn about gushy things. Good for her. And good for you for allowing your children to be who they are.



5 thoughts on “Study

    1. LLOYD

      A classic! Always entertaining and worth the read despite the modest delay for my New Yorker in the porcelain Reading Room. Why? Because sometimes (more often than not), you just nail it. This is one of those.

  1. Withheld

    There is a core of knowledge for which we are all responsible if we want to be productive members of a complex society. It’s mostly taught in primary school and the rest in high school. We have to study and. master that core whether we want to or not. Everything after that is specialization. I agree that specialization must be accompanied by a calling, since specialization is elective, but the basic core is compulsory, calling or no. We cannot lose sight of that. The best teachers are able to motivate students to achieve proficiency in subjects they are not especially interested in.

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