Will the real Dr. Brust please stand up?

<IMG src="/images/14229-13631/grad3.jpg”><IMG src="/images/14229-13631/grad2.jpg”>
On Wednesday November 22nd, sometime after 4:00 PM, I stood waiting to cross the stage at UBC’s Chan centre.  I was wearing a blue and maroon (or maybe red or purple?) gown, long enough to trip over (and that fear did cross my mind).  What had led me here?  Where was I going with my life?  I missed my undergraduate graduation ceremony because I was in Europe, and that I do not regret.  It was now just over 10 years since the last graduation ceremony I had attended – high school. 

I had given the valedictory address to my high school graduating class, as if I was somehow in a position to offer words of wisdom to my classmates.  I would give a different speech today if I could go back in time.  Instead of urging the class of 1996 to set lofty goals and work hard to achieve those goals, I would urge them to discover what made them happy and hold on to it.  Life is too short to waste trying to achieve a version of ourselves that we think, or what we believe others think, we “should” be.  I am now surrounded by people who are going to wake up one day and realize that their life has not turned out how they thought it should, and they will feel empty and demoralized.  Despite achieving much of what they’ve always thought they wanted, they will realize that achieving goals does not equal happiness or contentment, only a brief satisfaction that must be repressed so as not to interfere with achieving the next “lofty” goal.  I look back at my life and am grateful for the fun I’ve had, the friends I’ve made, and the time I’ve taken to enjoy myself.  But did I really need to put so much effort into junior high social studies?

Ten years ago, I would never have guessed that one day I would be in medical school and about to receive my PhD, and yet still be unsure of what I wanted to do with my life.  It seems strange that at the age of 28, I still don’t really know.  My parents, self proclaimed hippies, proud of me as they are, still joke (half-seriously) that they wish I had pursued art or poetry or music instead of science and medicine.  To this day, they proudly display my art from junior high and high school around the house.  Surely they don’t miss the sound of my saxophone?

I thought back to a few days ago when I was at Toronto General Hospital to learn clinical skills.  Wearing a stethoscope around my neck and an official hospital name tag, I had remarked to a friend while on my way to interview a patient: “I feel like I’m dressed up for Halloween.”  He laughed and agreed. 

In contrast, I realized that wearing that long blue and maroon or purple or red or whatever gown and over sized hat felt comfortable and completely natural.  I “owned” that robe.  I was awed by the gravity of the moment, glad that I had made the trip from Toronto to attend the graduation ceremony.  I was happy that my parents, aunt, cousins (and Frank!) were in the audience.  Maybe I could steal the robe to wear around the house?  I had earned that right at least.  The moment passed.

I had a piece of paper in my hand stating that the degree if Doctor of Philosophy had been conferred upon me.  My name was read and I had my moment on the stage.  I shook Chancellor McEachern’s hand, and he said “I admit you Dr. Brust”, thus signifying the official end of an odyssey spanning over six years to discover what “Ph.D.” actually stood for: Philosophiæ Doctor.  But it turns out I had been asking the wrong question all along, and that the answer to the question I was supposed to have been asking is 42.  Now I just have to figure out that question.

People have asked me if I plan on using my new title.  Oh, how fun it would be to sign off all my emails “Dr. Brust”, or insist that my dad address me as Doctor from now on.  Sadly, being a medical student is the one instance where I feel I can’t use my title.  Because physicians stole the term “doctor” from the Philosophiæ Doctors a long time ago, it would be too confusing for the patients.  They might think I’m a medical doctor and expect me to know what I’m doing, when in fact I have no idea…

3 thoughts on “Will the real Dr. Brust please stand up?

  1. Congrats Tyson, you have certainly earned it and while the robes look good, I don’t know about the cap. I know I’ll get one of those one day, but I do understand what you mean about the journey. I thought that I was going to fly through with one shot, but now I see that it’s a much longer path and nor the question or the answer come from anywhere one would expect.Good on you.

  2. Well done buddy. The garb is less than flattering, but the designation is impressive. You may find some comfort in using the term “M.D., Ph D.,” though sadly, you’ll have to wait until the first part kicks in. I have no reservations about calling you Dr. if you feel you need a fix.

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