Sunday, February 12, 2017

Vocation or Job?

It's probably best to start this one with a caveat. This-as ever-is a personal view- and perhaps more of a reflection of my personality- rather than a critique of larger mankind- especially in the world of healthcare. But it's always been a source of intrigue for me-as to how doctors see themselves- and where they feel they fit in the paradigm of life.

Is being a doctor a vocation? A higher calling? Some form of vision appeared to drive me to be a doctor? No- I will be very blunt- I grew up in a family of doctors- in the heart of Kolkata-when the economic boom had yet to hit- and my choice was made for me pretty much by my parents. I can't think of a time when I didn't want to be a doctor or indeed thought of a life as something different. In the hub-bub of Kolkata, the job came with prestige, respect and was important for my parents. Plus I grew up seeing my parents do what they do- working 7 days a week- long hours- yet always finding time for me and my sister, holidays etc.
So for me, it was never a vocation- it was something which was -maybe- natural? Times have changed and I don't see either my son or daughter doing it as "natural"- they will do in life what they want to do- explore opportunities (once non-existent in my times) but there certainly is no expectation per se.

So to me- its a job- I trained for it- worked hard, had lots of fun along the way, did long hours- and today, I try to do it to the best of my ability. There are lots of things I will get wrong, as any human beings would- and have exactly the same foibles as a nurse, a teacher or a pilot. All trained individuals, doing their job to the best of their ability- and trying their hardest to minimise errors due to human factors. Nothing more, nothing less.

Thus, to me, a job comes with its limits as to what can or cannot be done. I do try to help out beyond my contracted hours or indeed get involved in areas beyond what my designated roles are- but thats my choice- and not done due to a feeling that I have to do this. Thereby if I am tired, the fault lies no where else but me- as I CHOSE to do beyond what my job is. It's not a vocation, it's a job- and the ethos of that percolates through the team I work with. I hope no patients can say we don't try harder as anyone else- but on the other hand, it makes for a team which sits and has lunch together, laughs at each others inane jokes, finds time for trips to Nice to watch football....its a job, not a vocation where I have signed my life away endlessly to the system.

Maybe thats where a rethink is needed. When you say its a vocation, we are there much surprise when people then expect you to work more for nothing..its a vocation, right? You signed up to help others- no matter your personal consequences, right? Surely as an ethereal being, a bit more helping others isn't a big deal, right?

Maybe time to think whether to be treated as professionals, you need to see it as a job- not a vocation. Jobs come with rights, regulations, rules....vocations don't. And I appreciate thats maybe a difficult conversation for many- to actually think that we are not answering a higher calling. As I said at the beginning, its a personal perspective...and I certainly am not doing this just for love. I am a professional trying to do my job to the best of my ability- and its a job which I love doing everyday.

Does that make me a lesser being to some? Perhaps- but then again, I am happy doing what I do- and wake up each morning genuinely looking forward to enjoying the job I do.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is good enough for me.


  1. An interesting commentary and useful debate. However, surely it is misguided to view the two things as being incompatible? As Niels Bohr et al suggested there can be complementarity. It is possible to get paid for your vocation! Medics probably need to move away from the quasi-religious view that a vocation means lifetime sacrifice or self immolation. Ultimately doctors, nurses and other health professionals are mere humans and not machines. The modern NHS with endless re-organisations, targets, directives and political distractions has reduced professional autonomy so much that there is a very strong argument to say that being a doctor really is 'just a job'. BUT many doctors are lucky to do a job that they chose to do which they find interesting, challenging, righteous, intellectually stimulating and mostly enjoyable. That is a privilege that many people simply do not have. I am happy to say that the job happens to also be a vocation.

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