A Love Letter To Doctors

I have a confession to make. Four years ago, I was calling you the “Pod People,” because I felt so traumatized by the behavior of other doctors. When I quit practicing medicine around that time, I wanted to have nothing to do with doctors. I called myself a “recovering physician” and pretty much avoided doctors like the plague. I came to think of you as a bunch of arrogant, mean-spirited, grumpy, soulless people bent on keeping me in a box and clipping my wings.

But I have mellowed out. After two years of full-time writing and painting, I learned that you can quit your job, but you don’t quit your calling. I am now practicing medicine, but on my terms, in a way that feels completely authentic to who I am. The post-traumatic stress of my medical training is healing, and my heart is cracked wide open. Which puts me in a good place to write this love letter. So forgive me for calling you the “Pod People,” and know that I am on your side. Really.

Why I Love You

Now that I’m not so tired, I realize how much I truly love you. I love you for making the sacrifices you’ve made, for putting the needs of others before the needs of yourself, for dropping everything to come running when someone cries for help.  I love you for skipping keg parties to study for organic chemistry, for enduring sleepless nights and countless indignities in the name of learning, for tolerating angry teachers and stressed out colleagues. I love you for surviving law suits with your head held high, for not letting the insurance turkeys get your down, for dealing with complications that occurred on your watch and never forgetting that you did the best you could and that nobody is perfect.  Most of all, I love you for following your passion, for clinging to the authentic core of who you are deep within, for serving your life purpose and doing it with integrity and courage.

The Calling

I know that we all went to medical school for the right reasons.  We felt called to serve, usually from a very young age. After I quit my job, I convinced myself that going to medical school had been a mistake, that the only reason I did it was because Dad was a doctor, and I wasn’t brave enough to go to art school. But then I took a workshop with Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, author of Kitchen Table Wisdom, and she invited us to think back to the first time we realized that the life of another living thing mattered. It could be an animal, a person — a bug, even.

She asked us to raise our hands based on how old we were. Older than 25? 20-25?

15-20? 10-15? Less than 10? As you can imagine, almost everybody in the room raised their hands when she said “Less than 10,” myself included.

I was seven.  A chimney sweep was cleaning our chimney and found a nest of baby squirrels without a mother. I begged my parents to take me to the veterinarian so I could learn how to be the mommy these squirrels didn’t have. I learned to feed them dog’s milk with an eye dropper and wipe their little genitals so they would pee. I set my alarm to get up at night and feed them, and I carried them with me to school in a backpack. Over the next 15 years, I went on to raise about 20 squirrels. They called me the squirrel girl, and I loved those squirrels like a mother.

I cried when I realized this. Going to medical school had nothing to do with my father. It just gave me the tools to do what I had been doing since I was seven, tending the sick, wounded, and vulnerable.

Rachel says this trait is unique to us doctors. She says she tried doing this same thing in front of a group of law students, but when she asked them how old they were when they realized that the life of another living being mattered, nobody raised their hands — ever. Standing right next to her was the Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield, who leaned over and whispered in her ear, “Rachel, try justice.” And Rachel posed the question, “How old were you when you discovered that the world was unjust?” The lawyers had the same breakdown we did. They too were called young, but in a different way than we are.

You Matter

Chances are that, like me, you were born a doctor.  You didn’t have the white coat or the stethoscope or the pharmacology training, but you had what matters most — the desire to help others heal.  This is a gift. We are lucky. Our lives have great purpose. We do important work in the world.  We matter.

It’s easy to lose sight of this when you feel bogged down with CPT codes, falling reimbursement rates, electronic medical records, rising malpractice rates, subpoenas and blaring pagers.  It’s easy to question why you ever went to medical school in the first place. It’s easy to fantasize about quitting, if only you could afford to pay the $120,000 malpractice tail and the $200,000 med school debt that makes you an indentured servant.  It’s tempting to close your heart and build up an iron wall to protect you from the depth of the feeling that lies beneath our work. We consider donning the white coat and using it as armor to protect our soft underbellies. We let it become our identity, forgetting that we have rich nuggets of truth within us that truly define us. We lose touch with the idealistic kid who took the MCAT ages ago. We wind up hardened.


I know better. I can see beneath the mask you wear, the one you put on when you scrub into the operating room or show up at the office, the one you often forget to take off when you go back home and start barking orders at your husband like he’s a scrub tech in your OR.

I see the fear that grips you when you think about who you might be if you took the white coat off and let your whole self show up at the hospital.  I see how your marriage suffers when you can’t leave work at work.  I see how your kids cry when they are sick and you must go tend other women’s children. I see the bitterness that threatens to destroy you.

But I can also see the brilliance within you, the bright sparkly light that shines like a lighthouse, beckoning you back to who you really are underneath the white coat. I see your heart, exposed and vulnerable beneath its ribcage armor, longing to break open and love fully.  I see the fantasies you’ve let slide, the secret longings you’ve never spoken, the guilt you feel when you think about cheating on your calling to chase butterflies.

Most of all, I see radiance. I see powerful beauty, brimming with vitality.  I see endless capacity for love, for inner peace, for true healing, the kind that happens outside of the ICU. I see YOU.

I see this in you because I see it in me.  In this place, you and I share a connection, a thread that binds us together and sutures us into a quilt that blankets the whole world with light.

And So I Bless You

You, my friend, are a blessing. The world is so lucky you are in it. And I love you, not because you’re a doctor, but for being exactly who you are. Take this knowing and spread it into the world. Take it into the hospitals and clinics, the ER’s and OR’s and doctors’ lounges. Take it into your homes and gyms and art studios. Share it with your churches, your schools, your grocery stores.

What if we can doctor not just bodies but souls? What if we can bring the healing back to the heart of what we do? What if we can find meaning in medicine? What if we can heal our broken profession from the inside out, if we can cast the fracture between us and our patients? What if we could bring our whole selves to everything we do in life?  What if we can heal ourselves?


Adelfa Amancio
Hana Saad7 years ago

Good article. I hated doctors when my mom was taken to hospital and wasn't attended to because they didn't have enough money for hospital deposit. This was in the Philippines and we really have a bad hospital system and we even believe that hospitals and doctors are only for the rich. Going back to my mom's case, my father was panicky. They came to hospital without much money because it was an emergency. They arrived in the afternoon and my mother was only admitted when I came after work because I got the money. With that experience, I hated some doctors in the Philippines and all hospital employees. My mother passed away in 1994 but that incident in the hospital is still pissing me off.

Jeramie D.
Jeramie D7 years ago

This is so beautifully written and I am printing it and taking it to my long suffering family doctor who does not make the money his specialist friends do. Thank you so much for sharing this with us patients who don't understand the incredible sacrifice and pain you carry within you.

Ria T.
Ria T7 years ago

Your post brought tears to my eyes for the doctors I have known and loved, and the ones I haven't, for myself--burned to a crisp after 25 years working in an HMO that pushed us to the brink of collapse and to collapse. I cried because most MD's lose their love and their spark 3 years into their practice and I saw it happen time after time with "my docs" in the clinic where I worked the last 10 years. Angels came in, burned out, and hated the members for needing so much. Love is the answer. Self care and boundaries are the answer. Remembering is the answer. And, love of self, and others, is the answer. I am grateful for the people I was able to help and more grateful to be retired. Thank you for your poignant and heart-full blog.

Lorelai Ross
Lorelai Ross7 years ago

Oh Nicki, I know your pain! The post brought me to tears, and your comment did all over again. I am also disabled and on medicaid and have been rebuffed by handsful of doctors and told it was all in my head. I don't have Lyme but I do have Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue and both kinds of arthritis. I've actually been 'dismissed ' from a doctor's office before, after being told i need to go to a good shrink. Was it all in my head? No!

The thing about this post is that it reminded me of the few doctors like the author I have known. The ones who did listen, and did believe there was something truly wrong with me, even if they didn't know what it was immediately. The ones with a soul for their common men and women.

Lorelai Ross
Lorelai Ross7 years ago

Wow. Really good post. Thanks.

Susan S.
Susan S7 years ago

Doctors/healers do have a calling. Society has very high expectations of them, and often they feel pressured to heal and afraid of sickness and death as if not being able to make a difference somehow makes them a failure. Doctors are not God even though some people make the mistake of trying to place them on a pedestal. It is the people who look to them for answers in the face of difficult dilemmas, the people struggling with cancer or other illnesses who need them to be there because they so desperately want a cure. Because doctors deal with life and death issues constantly it is especially important for them to be spiritual and to have compassion. But it also seems that the more compassion a person has, the more subject they are to burnout. So I feel that doctors deserve respect and grace and even when we are angry with them (they do get the brunt of our frustration with the health care system because we see them as the gatekeepers and most powerful members) we need to pray for them. Thanks for this inspirational article...I am lucky to have doctors who I trust and who I believe are doing the best they can for me.

Nicki R.
Nicki R.7 years ago

I've never had or met a doctor like the author. I am now permanently and very painfully disabled because doctors refused to LISTEN to me. Years ago I had a growing list of alarming and debilitating symptoms, but kept being told it "was all in my head" and "nothing a good shrink can't cure." They threw anti-depressants at me like they were candy. I kept getting worse. I had done my research, knew my own body and was sure I had lyme disease, but it took me at least eight years to get one doctor to do the right test and take me seriously. By then it was too late for treatment to work. Now, the damage caused by lyme and the other conditions it has triggered has left me a virtual cripple. And since I can't work, I 'm stuck with Medicaid and now doctors won't even see me. The rare times they do, they simply tell me they can't help me. I no longer even have the energy to go to a doctor's appointment and I've lost hope because of the way I've been treated. If that very first doctor, who literally pulled the tick out of my body, had listened and wanted to help, instead of laughing at me, my story would be very different. My biggest complaint about doctors: they've refused to listen to me and treat me like I'm wasting their precious time. And, a note to the Canadian posters: one only has choices of doctors here if one is well insured. That is not me.

Mary Swan
Mary S7 years ago

Thanks for the thought provoking article as well as all the interesting comments.

I find it amazing that many of you live in places that have enough doctors to be able to "shop around". As a Canadian I have never had to pay for a visit to the doctor's office but I have also never (or rarely over forty years) had a choice in who I could see when I needed medical care. I am fortunate to currently have a "family doctor". He is young, reasonably pleasant and a TERRIBLE listener. If I were to decide to not see him again I would not find a single physian within a two hour drive able to take new patients. Maybe we do get what we pay for.

Chrystle A.
Chrystle A7 years ago

I can count on one finger (yes, finger, not hand) the number of good doctors whom I have encountered. I spent 15 yrs bouncing around trying to find out what I had. I was repeatedly told it was "all in my head" or referred to a shrink (I went to them every time, but it did nothing for my physical symptoms.). I used to be a good patient. Now I question and get chewed out for it. One of my doctors ridiculed me about my weight, my high blood sugar levels and my cholesterol levels, none of which I had had any problem with before I started as his patient. I found out through some web research that one of the medications he had prescribed me was causing these problems. As soon as I was off that medication, those problems were gone.

I was even ridiculed once because my breasts were small. Another doctor told me he was sure my back pain was due to PMS. "You get backaches about once a month, isn't that it?" When he bothered to look at my back, the scoliosis was apparent. Doctors have not been my friends.

Mary L.
Mary L7 years ago

It's easy for doctors to fall into a didactic "you know nothing and I know everything and you have (fill in the blank) with no investigation at all.

They have patients scheduled every 15 minutes like a factory and they schedule more than one patient for the same time.

I keep telling them we can get through talking about this or I can stay and wait right here until you have time to talk.

Yes there are money money bling bling doctors and dedicated doctors and fraud doctors from time to time. They aren't Gods even if they think so.

Call them on bad behavior you wouldn't tolerate otherwise.