Acting Dean Charles Griffith, MD, MSPH, presented this year's AOA Humanities Lecture. During his speech, he shared 13 reasons why he loves medicine and why being a doctor remains a blessing.

I have always cherished the privilege of being a doctor. That’s not to say there aren’t challenges associated with the profession. These past two-plus years have certainly proven that. Despite the hard times, I still find it to be a privilege to serve my community, my learners, and my colleagues.

Here are 13 reasons why I believe being a doctor is, and remains, a blessing.

13. The Stories from Medical School

As we go through our years as a doctor, we accumulate stories that mold us, that shape us, and make us the doctors that we want to be.

I started medical school 38 years ago. When I go into the cadaver lab, I go back in time. I can remember exactly what it was like to try new things as a medical student, to feel inferior and think, gosh, all these people around me are so smart. All that comes back with a rush.

You don’t forget your first patient. The first question you're asked on rounds. The first time you suture somebody. The first time you made a suggestion to the team which truly made a difference in the care of the patient. And the residents, they were our role models we looked up to so much.

12. The Stories from Residency

Similarly, there are a lot of firsts during residency. Residency is your first run at treating patients independently (with supervision.) You’ll remember the first code that you led, and the first successful code you led. The relationships you build with your fellow residents are some of the deepest connections you’ll ever find.

Residency is also a time when you might experience your first real hardship on the job. Obviously, as a doctor, you're going to do things in the best interest of the patient, and inevitably, things might not work out. You can't help but start thinking you should have done something differently, even though deep down you know you couldn’t.

Though it’s hard to see in that moment, these are the times that make you stronger.

11. The Stories from Patients

As doctors, we have privilege of getting to know people at a deeper level than most professions. Patients tell you stories they have shared with no one else.

I always tell students to ask questions about your patients’ background. Just one extra question. Tell me about yourself. What are you famous for? You’ll be surprised at the answers you’ll receive.

10. The Stories from Great Diagnoses and Cases

In my time as a doctor, I’ve seen a lot of things and helped diagnose a lot of varying conditions – ALS, myasthenia gravis, autoimmune hepatitis, reactive arthritis, HIV and all of its complications, and so much more. (Though I’ve never diagnosed a patient with pheochromocytoma … I want to make that diagnosis one day.)­

A great diagnosis can make being a doctor very exciting. As an internist, it’s fun to make a very complicated diagnosis, especially when that greatly helps the patient.

9. Opportunity to Always Learn

I remember when I finished my residency in 1992, and Magic Johnson had just been diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. I was heartbroken and worried of what would happen. Fortunately for Magic, he got his diagnosis as we started developing highly active antiretroviral therapies, and he’s alive to this day living a normal life. If I had stopped learning at the end of my residency, I would have seen a patient like Magic and assumed the worst.

I love to learn about everything. I read all the time about everything, philosophy, history, theology, fiction, it is fun to learn. So, it’s been a blessing to be in a profession that gives you opportunities to learn constantly. It’s what helps make you a good doctor.

8. Opportunity to Make a Difference for a Patient

When you gain clinical expertise, you become a better doctor and inspire confidence in your patients, and that is a great thing. However, it can become so straightforward. The one thing I try to tell students, residents, and colleagues is to be aware that your patients are not experiencing something routine, even if it’s seen as routine to you.

It’s not easy for the patient – they come in scared, sad, uncertain about the future. We have the chance to embrace those humanistic qualities and treat them each as individuals.

7. Opportunity to Make a Difference in a Community

A word that is tossed around these days with COVID-19 is “hero.” At first, I was a little ambivalent because being a doctor is what we sign up for. We’re here to make a difference, to be on the frontline and care for those who need it.

But I think of the beginning of the pandemic during the shutdowns, and it restores my appreciation for the role I get to have. I think of New York City residents standing outside on their balconies cheering on doctors and providers who were getting off of their shift for the night. It’s an incredible sight, and one that inspires me every time I watch it.

6. Opportunity to Make a Difference in the World

I had the great fortune of going with my dad (who is also a doctor) on medical missions. I spent four summers in Tanzania and a few years in Belarus. These were amazing opportunities to at least try to make a difference in the world, and it was just overwhelming to experience all of the generosity of the people we visited and served.

Even though these missions are not about you, you will leave transformed. I analogize it to an organ transplant. After the procedure, the patient feels great getting rid of the toxins and starting new. This is almost like a spirit transplant. In this profession, you get to be open to the splendor and the wonder of the world.

5. Opportunity to Make a Difference for the Next Generation of Doctors

We teach students by what we explain, but also by what we do and how we care for patients. It’s important to remember your roots when you were a student and how much it meant for you to have a doctor take you in their clinical settings and teach you.

The questions I am asked by students and residents make me stay on top of things, and I’m a better physician for it. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my learners.

4. Opportunity to Experience the Abundance of Life

We have the privilege of being immersed in people’s lives. Like I mentioned earlier, they tell us things that they wouldn’t tell anyone else, and we get to see the highs and lows. They open up to us. We get to hear everything about their lives and experience people from all walks of life. The sheer abundance of life that we get to experience as doctors is beyond belief.

3. The Beginning

When did you become a doctor? Technically, our fourth-year medical students get a diploma, and then they start being called doctor when they start their residency.

But most of us become a doctor at another moment.

In the thick of residency, you're so exhausted from the day after day after day, and week after week of just these incessant long hours. Your circadian rhythm is all messed up. And you reach a point one night where all your tasks are completed. So you decide to lie down to catch up on an hour or two of sleep – then you get a call about your patient. And instead of telling your team to handle it, you instinctively get up to help, no questions asked.

We go to the patient. That's what doctors do. You can't help yourself but be a doctor when no one's watching. That's the day you become a doctor.

2. The End

The best doctor I know is my dad. I used to watch him in practice sometimes and he would see 60 to 70 patients a day, and he knew all the patients by heart.

He retired a few years ago, but he hasn't retired. He's gone to medical missions all around the world and country. He does work in his community. He does a lot of free clinics right now to this day in my small hometown in Alabama.

My father has been and always will be a doctor. The calling never ends.

1. The Dash

The dash is the most important thing on your CV for those who are in academics. I have a CV with all my papers, publications, and when I was promoted to professor. But the most important thing on my CV is that I was a faculty member at the College of Medicine, 1992 “dash” present.

What did you do during that time span, represented by the dash, to make this world a better place? Well, as physicians, we have the opportunity to make the world a better place.