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It is difficult to remember when I was not a doctor, and even more difficult
to remember when I did not want to be a doctor - but there was such a time.
Originally, I wanted to be an astronomer; the clear winter skies over Southern
New Jersey did not provide optimal viewing of dim astronomical objects due to
the brilliant glare of the Western sky from Philadelphia and its suburbs.
Still, I was fascinated with astronomy and even built several reflecting
telescope to get a better view. My family could never afford to buy me a
real, store telescope so I did the next best thing - I made several! They
may not have been the most beautiful things to look at but they worked
reasonably well. With them, I could view the craters of the moon, rings of
Saturn, moons of Jupiter, star clusters, variable and double stars, and was sure
astronomy would be my career path.
I picked only two colleges out where I
would like to attend; the University of Virginia (U.Va) and Penn State
University. My mother taught at Temple University at the time,
which is right in the middle of Philadelphia - difficult to see any
stars from there! Both the University of Virginia and Penn State had excellent
astronomy departments, and I eventually chose U. Va as they had a
beautiful campus next to the Blue Ridge Mountains. I soon
discovered, however, that astronomers tended to work very hard
throughout the night and got very little money in return.
Astronomy is a research discipline; you either taught astronomy
generally in a university environment, or you write endlessly for
grants trying to beg for money from the government or granting
agencies. If you were good and could think of important,
original research you might do well; otherwise, you would need a
It was during this period of disillusionment that I
thought seriously about medicine as an alternative career.
I suppose there is little shared in common between medicine and
astronomy, but it seemed like a good idea at the time! I decided
upon a biology major and entered the pre-med program. I remember
vividly being scorned for making such a decision - I was selling out.
Perhaps I was - but looking back it was probably the right decision.
Also, it was very plainly made known to me that choosing a career in
medicine was to choose a very difficult lifestyle - if indeed you
could be accepted into any medical school. At that time, there
were about 100 applications for every medical school seat! The
competition was very fierce and very good applicants were rejected
often for purely whimsical reasons. I had in my mind a rather
naive concept of what being a physician meant; sure, it was hard, but
you were generally well respected and there was minimal stress because
as a physician you knew all the answers.
Medicine is so very
difficult to practice because it is an art - not a science.
There is much that is not known about all diseases, most treatment is
poor at best, and mostly we depend upon the body to heal itself if we
can just give it a little bit of help. Still, bad things happen;
people die because of mistakes, everybody eventually dies leaving
devastated families, people who die somehow survive all odds, while
others who should get better and walk out of the hospital, die.
eventually became a physician specializing in Internal Medicine - the
non-surgical diseases of the adult. I found out very quickly
that I was not meant to be a surgeon - I just don't have the
temperament. I also could not be a children's doctor because
watching a sick child die was just too much to bear. Taking care
of children also usually means taking care of the emotional problems
in the rest of the family.
After medical school, I went to Thomas
Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia for three years; one for
internship and two more for residency. After finishing
residency, I then decided to get more training as a specialist in
Pulmonary (lung diseases) and Critical Care Medicine at the Medical
College of Pennsylvania. Eventually, I took many additional
courses and became a specialist in Sleep Medicine. One of the
major diseases in sleep medicine is obstructive sleep apnea - a
diseases where the patient frequently stops breathing at night.
I suppose that is why sleep medicine and lung medicine are frequently
I have now been practicing medicine as an attending
(that is, on my own without supervision) for over 20 years and have
probably seen it all! I have been with many families as their
loved ones died, I have delivered babies, taken patients off life
support to die, and even ducked chairs thrown at me when I was unable
to save a terminal elderly patient from her cancer. Medicine is
rewarding, but it extracts a considerable price for the privilege.
I work about 80 hours a week - at least,
seeing patients in my office, hospital,
sleep center, and traveling to
other hospitals. I also became a hospitalist - or hospital
doctor - for a short period of time until my health was starting to
suffer and I had to stop being a part-time hospitalist.
My life is
very full; I work in the office, the local referral hospital,
director of a sleep center, director of a durable medical equipment
company, and a consultation office about 52 miles away in Jamestown,
TN. I also do medical-legal consultation work investigating
the merits of malpractice cases, and author of a Christian
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