We Signed Up For This

During my medical internship I was required to spend a month working in the emergency department. On one of my overnight shifts in the ED I evaluated a patient who had a known diagnosis of cancer and was being treated by one of the oncologists at our institution. The patient had come to the hospital that night with some minor symptoms which had resolved, and I suggested to the attending physician I was working with that we could probably just send her home. He agreed with this plan, but wanted me to call the patient’s oncologist before letting the patient go.

“But it’s 2:00 in the morning,” I protested.

“She signed up to be a doctor. You page her,” he ordered.

I dutifully went and paged the patient’s oncologist, who was very nice and did not complain about my waking her up in the middle of the night. She agreed with our plan to discharge the patient home and said that her office would call the patient in the morning.

I often tell this story to my medical students and residents, because I learned an important lesson from my attending physician that night. Later during my residency when I felt like complaining over the heavy burden I was carrying, his words would echo in my mind: “You signed up to be a doctor.”  Medical education is hard, and it should be hard, but I chose this path and I must now own my choice. I must willingly and stoically accept the burdens which accompany and sometimes overshadow the benefits of this profession.

Latter-day Saints believe that a similar concept applies to each of us in relation to our life on earth. We all lived with our Father in Heaven as spirits before we were born, and we chose to come to earth as part of his plan for our happiness. The experience of mortal life was meant to be both an education and a test for our souls.  We were promised that God would help us, and we trusted him because we knew firsthand that he loves us. When God presented this plan to us we shouted for joy and gladly accepted its terms. What a precious opportunity is life on earth!

But life is not always fair, even for people who are trying to be good. Hard times come to each of us sooner or later. We do not ask for bad things to happen to us, and it is not always our fault when they do. Many of our sorrows result from other people choosing to disobey God’s will. These trials are a part of the test, and can be vital to our spiritual education.

When life is hard and we feel like complaining, we would do well to remember that we all signed up for this. Long ago, and before we were even born, we all chose to follow the Lord. Choosing each day to follow him again will give us strength and courage to carry on through life’s trials, looking forward to a happy reunion with our Father in Heaven.

Alan B. Sanderson, MD is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is a practicing neurologist.

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