Having and maintaining a healthy sense of authority is a fine line in my day-to-day life. My work as a family physician means I am expected to have “the answers” and expected to “not make mistakes.” Essentially, it feels like I'm not allowed to be human. It's challenging to not be able to deliver on those expectations and it lulls me into believing that I am the ultimate authority. This habit of thinking I should know it all didn’t come from within myself. I grew up with a lot of self-doubt and insecurities. It kept me from participating in class, going out for auditions or try-outs for extra-curricular activities, and really shying away from drawing attention to myself in any way. Thinking back, I did “step out” of my shell but it was motivated by what I believed to be a necessity. You needed to have “leadership skills” to show on your college applications, right? Everyone’s always looking for leaders. And this continued through my years of schooling and through my training to become a physician. I picked up this unspoken expectation that we should exude confidence (sometimes telling ourselves “fake it til you make it.”) The culture in medical training is hard on people like me. It’s not for the faint of heart: don’t show weakness, don’t make mistakes, and definitely don’t show that you’re human.
I think I always wanted to be the person people came to for answers, for help. That was the driving force behind wanting to become a physician. I guess in that sense, I was looking for a way to become a person in a position of authority; not to lord it over others, but to become someone people could rely on. I wanted to be a trusted source of knowledge and help. So, I’m uncomfortable with this idea that I am the authority, at least at work. I know that if I believe that I am the ultimate source of knowledge and answers, that’s when you make mistakes, and mistakes in medicine can mean someone can get hurt, maybe even die. I think the best doctor is one that knows her limits. I often remind myself that God is the ultimate healer. Sometimes, before walking into my clinic, I ask God to remind me to rely on him, to recognize that I’m not doing this on my own. I’m merely trying to be Jesus’ hands and feet as I’m caring for his people here in this earthly world.
There are stories of miracles that happen in medicine and they’re called “miracles” because science can’t be used to explain these events. I’m sure you’ve heard of them, too: Cancers clearing miraculously from bodies that were once riddled with the disease after all possible treatments were exhausted. A man who survives repeated cardiac arrests, respiratory failure, falls into a coma for three weeks, then wakes up and never has another heart or lung problem ever again, going on to live a full and healthy life. Spinal cord injuries that leave people paralyzed and somehow, they learn to walk again. Stories like these remind me that indeed, we don’t know it all, we can’t do it all, and we are not the ultimate authority. They’re reminders to everyone, but especially doctors who’ve become numb to their own ability to treat and cure diseases, that God really is in charge here.
So healthy authority starts and ends with God. It starts by understanding that my positions of power and authority were God-given (my career as a doctor, my role as a mother). It ends with where my authority ends, God is there. His authority never ends. It is boundless and limitless and this comforts me.