“If you feel that you have a vocation for medicine, you should follow that calling.” Advice I was given before my Leaving Cert.
Traditionally society placed value on those who worked to look after others. Vocation was inextricably linked to religion and was supported by religious orders. This support was important, as it facilitated it being undervalued in terms of income and working conditions. Women outnumbered men in these professions and this remains the case today.
If you have a ‘vocation’ or calling from a higher power, it’s more difficult to speak up and ask for an improvement in your working life. As our society has changed, nurturing our people is not connected to organised religion. It is secular and assumes a value due to the work itself. Everyone deserves a safe and healthy place to work.
Covid-19 brought this into sharp focus as some went to work with infected patients, placing themselves and their families at increased risk of infection. With inadequate access to PPE at the start, there was a sense of betrayal among many healthcare workers, as staff were passed up the line to death and lingering illness.
The word vocation carries heavy baggage within careers that provide a framework of care to people of all ages. It’s time to redefine the word and shift focus to the meaning this kind of work brings.
The death toll and impact on the physical and mental health of healthcare workers is enormous. This sense of inequity was not ameliorated by the pandemic payment, as distinctions were made between those entitled and those who were not.
Because of this legacy, the word vocation carries heavy baggage within careers that provide a framework of care to people of all ages. It’s time to redefine the word and shift focus to the meaning this kind of work brings.
The Great Resignation has been attributed to a re-evaluation of purpose across many sectors of employment. The upheaval of the lockdowns influenced this introspection, with some working in finance, the civil service and business seeking more human connection, even if that meant a change in working conditions and drop in salary.
It is natural to expect a period of dissatisfaction following such a huge societal event. In a report last year on why so many are wanting to switch jobs, the consultancy group McKinsey pointed out that post-pandemic employees now expect their jobs to bring a significant sense of purpose to their lives, and if they don’t find this they will leave for employers that can offer it. This applies to all sectors and healthcare is no different.
Can we learn lessons from the experiences of those who work in caring jobs, and those who do not - but wish for more human value in their work? Because we live in an interconnected world ; there are few jobs that don’t have meaning.
There is no doubt a career in nurturing and safeguarding people holds huge benefits. Over the past 27 years as a doctor, I have experienced personal fulfillment beyond my expectations as a student.
The capacity to share human experience is extraordinary – assisting at the birth of a baby, helping a grandfather walk after surgery, sitting in silence with those bereaved. It is a job which inspires humility and respect for the strength of the human spirit to endure through horrific events. And to live on with joy again.
If young students do not see this potential fulfillment, and do not choose to work in nurturing professions, our society will struggle.
Every person should have that fulfillment in their work. As human beings we’re wired to connect. Having a purpose to nurture others or serving a greater good is something outside of us that makes us feel more connected. When an individual has a strong sense of purpose in their working life, it influences lots of other interactions in a positive way. It gives a tremendous perspective on your own life, as you see the big picture in terms of what is important.
The benefits of a powerful meaning in work are clear for our society at large. If young students do not see this potential fulfillment, and do not choose to work in nurturing professions, our society will struggle.
Our economy may boom, politicians may tell us we’ve never had it so good, but if we don’t have a vibrant, replete workforce in teaching, health and social care, then what’s the point? Our children need education, we all need healthcare, we will all need help as we get older. Having adequate care at all of these stages brings a high standard of living to a population.
Choosing a career that will lead to healthcare, education or social care brings many benefits to you and your community. It’s rarely dull, there are many opportunities to advance and plenty of camaraderie and friendship that supports you as a person. You will influence people’s lives and have the capacity to do good. This gives back to you, in the form of personal contentment that goes beyond salary.
If you choose a career that does not take you into a caring role, it’s important to see your contribution to our community as a supporter of caring. Your support comes through the systems within which you work – as a designer, engineer, prison guard or bin man. Every job has meaning because each adds value to the life we lead.