I’m at a point of decisions between further training and career paths. Would like to chat if there are other Buddhist doctors here. Open to receiving personal messages also. Thanks.
Not a doctor or medical student. I joined a group in my university (National University of Singapore, NUS) called medical Dhamma circle. They have once a week (unless it’s a public holiday on that monday), monday nights dhamma sharing for 1 hour, followed by dinner, where the working doctors pay for the students.
I enjoyed it for 3 years as an undergrad, then proceeded to be part of the paying senior group. I also enjoyed having the opportunity to present dhamma sharings to small groups of people.
A lot of the doctors don’t go to other temples for their personal practise, just relying on this once a week thing, some of the doctors goes to super good retreats, like asking for no pay leave for a month each year to go for 1 month meditation retreat.
Some doctors goes and join in Tzu Chi and become super active in it. I managed to inspire some to go for their first retreats.
Nowadays, they are on zoom meetings. Try contacting NUSBS (NUS Buddhist Society) to get in contact with them.
Certainly, there are many seniors there with many specialties and advises. I think one of the main advice in general is which do you consider is the big pebble to put into the glass jar of your life? Cause if you don’t put the big pebble in first, you couldn’t fit it in after the small rocks and sand and water.
Could you explain your question more? Specifically:
- Are you wondering what type of career path to choose as a doctor that balances Buddhism and work/life, etc.?
- What country are you in (since medicine is very different in each country and the best practice guidelines, finances, etc. are correspondingly different)?
- Are you trying to blend your current medical work with Buddhist principles?
- Are you trying to find other health care providers to talk with in order to learn about the dhamma as it pertains to medicine?
I’m at a point where I should make a small decision in how my training will progress. Either I can simply complete my basic primary care family doctor training… or I can try to do that as well as train to get a broader experience and knowledge - involving how to be a well-rounded “rural” doctor to work in small hospitals and become a family doctor who also provides some extended skills in hospitals.
Initially I chose that field because I thought it might be useful to work for people in developing countries… Now I’m not sure if the benefits outweigh the downsides (more to study/need to keep up to date with more knowledge than basic primary care, possibly need to work in higher stress environments or night shifts, which might distract from time to study Dharma)…
Also trying to figure out my talents and how to best use them. Possibly my talents might be in communicating with patients and sharing Dharma knowledge about dealing with everyday difficulties… working in a hospital or surgical environment might not be that suitable to that, as opposed to a outpatient clinic for example?
I do understand the concept of practicing Dharma in all activities. Nevertheless I should also try to direct my steps in life in the best way I can at this given time.
In the back of my mind of course is forgoing medicine altogether and focusing on Dharma study/practice, as I do have a strong desire to study Dharma (much more than my desire to study medicine currently). However for the time I feel like I should at least complete my training program to graduate as a family doctor. Probably then I might have flexibility and take a few months to gradually do some longer retreats and see if it’s something for me.
Have you had to deal with decisions like these before and how did you go about it? Just trying to get some different perspectives. Thank you.
I heard from a Western monk who lives at a Pa-Auk monastery in Myanmar that they have full time doctors and dentists at the monastery. He said they were real doctors and dentists. I’m not sure if they are now monks or not, though.
I don’t know what country you are studying in, but there are many monastics in America that struggle to get access to healthcare. That’s entirely because of the screwy healthcare system in the US. If you are in America, I’d say that it would be extremely meritorious, and much needed, to offer free services to monastics. Even volunteering your medical services in some of the poorer Buddhist countries, to monastics and laity alike, would be great.
Maybe one question you can ask yourself that will help you make a decision is how interested are you in socially engaged Buddhism? If you think it’s very important, and want that to be a big part of your Buddhist practice, then I’d say definitely finish your degree. With legitimate medical training, you will have much more to offer. I mean, people are always needed to do things like dig ditches or lay bricks, but anyone can do that. There’s no shortage of people who can do that. Someone with real medical knowledge, though, who is willing to work for free or very little is much harder to come by. On the other hand, if you want to become a forest monk, and spend most of your time meditating in a kuti, then you don’t need a medical degree, or any of the extra training you mentioned above.
Mindfulness in daily living, good teachers to learn from: Thich Nhat Hanh, Sayadaw U Tejaniya. If you don’t have time, do find their audiobook (or softwares which read out loud ebooks), and listen while you’re on the bus or train/ in toilet/ doing things which doesn’t require brainpower.
Dhamma in all activities also includes sila, if your morality is good on 5 precepts, it’s considered that you’re on morality practise all the time.
I personally recommend indeed finish the basic doctor thing, then go out and search for retreats, ordain etc. Monks can still use medical knowledge to heal monks, although not to heal lay people (unless emergency, or else it’s meant not to heal lay people full time as a free doctor). The pursuit of dhamma is far more valuable than the pursuit of any worldly knowledge. Finishing the basic doctor thing is a fall back in case you don’t find monastic life is for you.
I’m a physician, trained in radiation oncology. I, too, had struggles along the path–be it my dhamma path or the professional one, or how they intertwined.
If you have questions feel free to ask. You can also PM me.
In general, I would agree with the other commentators that it is helpful to finish your degree since you have come this far. In regards to picking a specific path, one other thing to consider is which path will allow you flexibility? You mention, for example, going on retreats. If you are the only family doctor in a village, you cannot leave for one month to go on a retreat, unfortunately. Similarly, if you chose a fast-paced field, like cardiology, your fellow cardiologist in your group practice may not agree to let you leave for a month for a retreat either. In the US, unfortunately, a medical education is very expensive. Students often finish with up to $400,000 in student loans at 5% or more interest. This also constrains one’s dhamma practice because, simply put, one has to work quite a bit to pay back the loans over a 10-15 year period. Hopefully you are not in that situation and thus can have more financial freedom in your choices. I typically advise students to talk to practitioners in the fields they are considering in order to get a better sense of the work/life balance that field offers. While we can incorporate dhamma practice into all of our actions, finding time to meditate on the cushion becomes difficult if the expectations of your peers in a certain branch of medicine, such as cardiology, are that you work 60+ hours a week, with only 2-3 days off (including weekends) per month, on top of your existing family and personal responsibilities. Talking to others currently working in that area can help you figure this out for yourself.
Pro tip… Join the Army.
The armies of the world are constantly in need of qualified people. Depending on the country, you will get forbearance, cancellation or even a complete refund of your student loan. You will receive an adequate, though not enormous paycheck. The work will be challenging, though not overly so. As a medic under the Geneva convention, your services will necessarily be offered free of charge to friend and foe alike- you will not be expected to bear arms or shoot anyone. You will be joining an organization whose way of life rhymes in many ways with the monastic order. There will be many similarities… time spent in seclusion in forests and deserts far away from civilization endlessly contemplating the sense pleasures one gave up, exposure to the kings of this world as well as the wretched suffering in forgotten battle zones… the contemplation of Death in immediate and visceral ways and the meaninglessness of Power and Pelf in the endless drama of Samsara.
Who knows? Perhaps you might even get a glimpse of Nibbana somewhere along the way.
(Disclosure : Ex Army, and an ENT surgeon now living and working in Dubai)