Dear Fourth years,
Tamar and I wish each and every one of you the best of luck tomorrow – we are praying that you match in the best way possible in the field and program that you are hoping for.
Tomorrow may or may not be the day that you will remember as being the most influential in your medical education and career, but one thing is certain, there is a powerful lesson that can be one more step toward being not only a great doctor, but a true care-giver.
A chassid – a devoted follower of a Chasidic Rebbe – was once in a private audience with his Rebbe to seek counsel. On this particular occasion he was asking for help to overcome a particular fault which he had. To his shock the Rebbe told him “I’m sorry, I can’t help you. In order to give you advice on how to overcome a challenge I would first need to find it within myself and this fault I cannot find within me.” “But Rebbe” the chassid replied, “people come to you regularly to ask for help in overcoming grave sins which you surly have never done, how is it that you can help them?” “It’s true,” the rebbe replied “that I may never have done those sins, but I was able to find within me, on some level, the underlying attitude or feeling which was at fault, and through that I was able to empathize with and therefore to help, the sinner. In your case however, not because of the gravity of the sin, I simply cannot find it within me in any way and therefore I cannot help you.”
We hope and pray each day to never experience the challenges of those who we treat and so we need to look at our own life experiences to be able to truly empathize with and understand the people in our care.
Tonight you go to sleep and all of the classes which you studied and all of tests which you took, along with the details of your future career, are all hanging on the information in a small paper envelope which will be handed to you tomorrow.
I hope and pray that everyone gets exactly what they hoped for. But right now, before you get that information, hold on to the feelings which you have now, and keep a picture of them well framed in your memory.
You will have many occasions where you are talking to a patient, a patient’s parents or family, and they are waiting to hear what the future holds for them. In one moment they will find out if their lives will go on as before or change forever. Whenever that situation comes up, before sitting to give the diagnosis, be sure to first look back at what it feels like to have such enormous and pivotal news, with so much in the balance, being given in one moment. Then, when you need to give the news - good or, G‑d forbid, the opposite - you will be able to share it heart to heart in a warm and companionate manner.
Best of luck,
Rabbi Zalman