There’s a physician that I’ve been following for a few years now on social media who has some very good ideas on where healthcare should go in order to be better and, possibly, be fixed. He has posted videos and given speeches, and he is now involved in an ambitious project in an inner city to try to both revitalize the downtown area of that city and bring better healthcare to its residents. His talks and videos have been well-received by most people in the healthcare field, and he is becoming quite a celebrity among providers.
A few days ago, I emailed him to ask if he would be available for a talk at a professional conference next year. He replied that he would probably not because the organization putting together the conference would “probably not be able to afford” him. He explained that he left his practice to pursue his ambition of reforming/reshaping the healthcare system, but that his children will still one day need to go to college (and have other needs, of course). When I heard this, my knee-jerk reaction was to give him a list of people who have not been so “expensive” so as to not give talks at conferences or even small gatherings. But I held back. I have a lot of respect for him to lose it over just one thing like that.
A few days later, once my brain had the chance to process it all, I got to thinking about the situation by placing myself in the shoes of the physician in question. What would I do if I had left a well-paying job to chase my dreams? And what if I had children? And what if I had medical school loans and other financial obligations? Would I charge for my talks? The answer, of course, is that I would. Furthermore, those who are readily available to talk see a return on their investment one way or another. They see whatever presentation, talk, or consult that they do as an investment into something greater. If that investment yields cash or opportunities, it’s worth doing.
But all this did get me to thinking about the price we pay for pursing a dream. For the physician in question, pursuing a better healthcare system seems to be coming at the expense of his children’s college fund. Maybe he also spends a lot of time away from home? For me, the price of chasing my dream has been to be very, very far away from my family. The closest person, from a geographical point of view, is my younger brother in Lincoln, Nebraska. Mom and my little sister are a little bit further away in mid-Nebraska, and my Dad is anywhere between Texas and Chihuahua (Mexico). From there, I have a few cousins in Lousiana, and everyone else is either south of the Rio Grande or west of the Rockies.
Not only that, but chasing my dreams has meant getting into a lot of debt with student loans, not sleeping well a lot of nights because of school and/or work, and not being able to go out and “party” like people my age do because of responsibilities. My wife and I have held off plans to have a child because we’re both chasing our dreams at the moment. We’ve given up a lot and not taken on a lot more because of our pursuit of something. For me, it’s the pursuit of a top-level career in public health. For her, it’s the pursuit of being a healthcare provider that takes care of her patients body and mind (and not in the magical sense, either; she’s finishing her degree in mental health counseling).
So I’m not going to take it personally when someone says that they’re looking out for “number one” so long as their work shows that they’re also looking out for others. The physician in question has been putting out a lot of good health and wellness information that is evidence-based and, actually, quite funny. His talks have sparked discussions on the future of healthcare in this country and how it is simply not sustainable and must be changed. When he says that he needs to watch out for the future of his children, I respect that. And I respect it even more because he’s a good guy fighting the good fight. His family deserves to reap the rewards of his labor.
That said, we still need to find someone to give a talk at that conference. If only I knew some well-known, well-spoken physicians…
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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