I wish I could proudly state that, in my early-mid-career, I was a full and equal participant in the efforts of raising a family, but that would not be honest. I did my best, but it was still an unequal balance much of the time regarding family responsibilities. I have tried hard to make up for that imbalance over the years, but will always be indebted to my wife for her understanding and hard work on behalf of our family.
So, the love of medicine and otolaryngology, the stimulation of teaching, the rewards of patient care, the camaraderie of my colleagues, and the richness of my family life have all contributed to a wonderful career and an avoidance of physician “burn-out.” One additional factor in my own life bears comment, and may serve as a suggestion to young physicians. Not only are well-rounded family and professional lives fundamental to a satisfying career, but so is the diverse stimulation of the mind across a wide range of outside interests. I have been stimulated by my military career, which has added a dimension of world-view realities and opportunities to practice in austere and dangerous environments. I have seen terrible injuries, and also acts of courage and self-sacrifice, enhancing my belief that even in the worst of situations, the human spirit can shine through.
My own interests in aerospace medicine, NASA, bioengineering, bioethics, and religion have expanded my intellectual capacity and provided experiences far beyond the usual otolaryngology practice. I have traveled the world, engaged with various cultures (which has assisted and informed my current diverse practice), and had experiences that could never have been foreseen by a boy growing up in rural Missouri in the 1940s and 1950s. These experiences are also part and parcel of my teaching in medicine, as so many things in life are inter-related and worthy of sharing. I believe it is important for senior surgeons (as well as all physicians) to be constantly stimulated through a variety of experiences, and to seek broad knowledge in diverse subjects that can inform us as citizens of the world. I am thankful to be a senior surgeon, but realize that category comes with a “time limited” stamp.
Dr. Holt is professor emeritus in the department of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. He also writes the column “Everyday Ethics” for ENTtoday.