Our daughter Meghan has a recent post at her blog Advanced Maneuvers, Practice Medicine, Not Martyrdom. Her post is a response to an op-ed piece by another physician who criticized physicians who don't work full-time. One of that doctor's arguments was that medical education is to a large degree subsidized and that places an obligation on doctors that isn't there for people in other professions.
I trust that I am not the only person who sees the large hole in that argument. It would be hard to find an educational institution in this country that covered all its expenses with money collected from its students. The average college budget shows income from a variety of sources, often including government and foundation grants, endowment income, and gifts from alumni/ae and friends. Higher education in this country is heavily subsidized for everyone, and so it isn't physicians alone that could be said to have an obligation to pay back what has been given them by using their gifts to serve others.
Musing about this question for the last week or so, I recalled one of the most disappointing sermons I have ever heard. It was at the baccalaureate mass for the Roman Catholic high school where I was teaching. All of the graduates have been my students in the required ethics class and I knew a bit about some of their career plans. One was planning to be a pharmacist. Another planned to serve in the military. Not at all to my surprise the only student who was mentioned in the sermon was the one who was considering the priesthood. That vocation alone was considered worthy of mention. The irony is that the young man did not become a priest, while others in his class have successfully pursued the goals they had at graduation.
The priesthood is an honorable vocation, even though a somewhat difficult one in the Roman Catholic Church now. But so are the vocations of those others. The physician to whose op-ed piece our daughter responded and the priest who preached that terrible sermon both have a narrow, perhaps even a distorted view of vocation. To them there are certain jobs that merit the title vocation and there are others that are simply jobs. Priesthood and medicine are vocations, but delivering the mail is only a job. What utter nonsense. We are in grave danger if we forget that "our common life depends upon each other's toil," the toil of the garbage collector as well as that of the physician.