Friday, September 09, 2016

Personal Identity

When I studied philosophy as an undergrad, one topic that really fascinated me was personal identity. How do we know we are the same person we were yesterday? What defines us? Is it causality, physical identity, some kind of metaphysical "soul," or something else? The philosophical literature on this is quite dense and less interesting to me now. But sociological ideas about identity still captivate me.

Many health care workers, I think, identify very strongly with their profession. If you were to encounter them in the supermarket and ask them what they do, they might reply that they are a doctor or nurse or therapist. We are proud of what we've accomplished, and our jobs have taken up so much time in terms of years of education and our daily lives. Our professions also carry such emotional weight, give us such deep satisfaction, and involve such close interpersonal interactions. It is no wonder that our profession, role in society, and vocation are tied to our sense of personal identity.

Over time, I have found that my sense of identity is less and less tied to my profession. This surprises most people, even those close to me. At work, I am very much a physician, anesthesiologist, and intensivist. I enjoy my work, I take pride in doing it well, and it defines me for sixty hours of the week. I am really quite present.

But once I leave the hospital, that part of me fades. My identity is only loosely tied to being a physician. I spend most of my time, energy, and effort pondering other things - writing, books, music, dance, cooking, travel. So it always surprises me when friends (and family) tell me that I'm a good doctor. I'm glad for such affirmation, but it feels strange to me to hear that from the world outside the hospital.

Part of this dissipation of a medical identity, I think, is the reason why I'm winding down this blog. It has always been my firm intention to keep this blog medical in nature. I think focus is important in writing, and writing broadly about medicine has yielded me thousands of posts. I think it's also earned me a reputation of someone who thinks, reflects on, and writes about medicine all the time. Perhaps that was true in medical school and residency when medicine was the whole of my life. But as that part of my identity softens a bit, I am less wont to continue blogging.

In any case, this is a rambling post that stems from me pondering my own identity, who I am, and who I'd like to be. As a doctor, I am proud of what I have become and where I'm going, but I tire a little of all those who assume that is mostly who I am. My departure from writing regularly here is a personal stimulus to broaden my sense of personal identity. I am understanding how much people change, and how important it is to discard the detritus of identities past.

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