I recently attended the AGS Meeting in Orlando as a rising 3rd year medical student. I was there to present my work on family caregivers, which was well received and even garnered some international attention. Not only did my research resonate with clinicians and researchers on a professional level, but they were also personally touched by the unique and heartbreaking stories of these unpaid caregivers. These were individuals who tirelessly gave their time and energy to tend the health care needs of a loved one without accepting pay or gratitude, even at the expense of their own physical and mental wellbeing. I was enthused by the opportunity to share my findings, but when people came up to me to extend their congratulation's for receiving the AGS Clinical Student Research Award, I was not as excited to talk about that. Instead of saying, “Thank you, I am delighted and honored,” I wrote off such worthy recognition by responding, “They probably didn’t have anyone else to give it to!” It was then that Dr. Mike Harper explained, “You have the geriatrician syndrome.”
A pathologically modest view of self in the context of one’s role as a physician caring for older adults; cardinal features include: inability to accept praise and downplaying the significance of one’s role in medicine.
How could this be when I’m not even a geriatrician yet? I haven’t worked as hard as the rest of these immensely accomplished meeting attendees. I still have to take Step 1 in June for crying out loud! Who was I to tell any of these people anything about my research on family caregivers and to receive an award for it?
I guess I do have that syndrome.
I guess I do have that syndrome.
I cannot definitively explain how I came to acquire this syndrome. I know that in the time I have spent working with geriatricians prior to starting medical school I have learned that this is a very humble bunch. Geriatricians constantly feel as though their work and desire to positively impact the lives of elders is endless, but they unremittingly forge on with much purpose and conviction. They may not be the highest paid nor could they boast to be the most competitive of medical specialties, but they sure are the happiest. They are truly the unsung heroes of medicine; but even when they are lauded, they shy away from it. In a way, they are very much like the family caregivers in my study; that is, they take very little credit – if any – for the large and positive impact they have on the lives they touch.
To be honored among those whose careers span more than half of my entire lifetime was beyond humbling (I’m 31 for what it’s worth). My fellow awardees gave poignant speeches about their commendable life’s work in geriatrics, whereas I was so nervous about not falling on stage that I forgot to shake Dr. Wayne McCormick’s hand upon receipt of my framed certificate.
I reckon the only way to treat the geriatrician syndrome is to continue doing good work in this field so that years from now, I can confidently walk up that stage again and say with conviction and poise, “Thank you. I am delighted and honored.”
[Picture courtesy of Lisa Hinds]
by: Julie Thai [Class of 2016, College of Human Medicine, Michigan State University]