Are You Worth Paying?
…And Do You Add Enough Value For The Dollars You
(Think That You) Deserve
Shortly after I finished medical school, I had the “opportunity of a lifetime” – to work in a cardiac surgery unit.
Dad’s friend was a consultant surgeon. A phone call asking for the favor landed my dream position. And as luck might have it, the day after I joined, the only other surgeon who had been assisting him had to rush back home for a family emergency – and wouldn’t be back for weeks.
There I was alone, barely out of medical school, helping run a busy heart surgery practice. (Even if it was only for 2 months, until I began my surgical residency program)
I loved it!
It was hard work. Long hours. My day started at 9 a.m. with ward rounds to examine the 20 or so in-patients. Surgery began around 10’o’clock and went on for four, five, or even eight hours. Then a short break for a quick lunch, followed by out-patient clinics, evening ward rounds and routine work.
From time to time, I’d pop in to the 4-bed ICU (which had post-surgical patients on a ventilator) to see if everything was okay. At night, I was the duty doctor who “slept” in the ICU annexe and served as ‘first responder’ to be on the spot and handle dire emergencies until the senior consultants came in.
When the anesthesiologist arrived next morning, I’d rush home for a quick shower and breakfast, then hurry back for morning rounds.
All said, I spent 22 hours each day in hospital – around 14 of them working.
It was one of the richest learning experiences of my medical career.
We had surgery every day. I’d assist at heart valve repairs and replacements; repairs for congenital heart defects like ASD, VSD, PDA; surgery for esophageal tumors and strictures; lung resections; and more.
Some were rare and exciting disorders: a giant leiomyoma of the foodpipe, an adult pulmonary atresia, or twin sisters who both had the same congenital heart disease.
I saw some brilliant operative skills. And watched near disasters salvaged with calm, methodical handwork.
Lives saved. Hearts healed. Miracles enacted.
Within a few weeks, I had an experience most surgical residents would only get after a year or two in a cardiac program. It would serve me well during my own residency training in general surgery for the next 3 years, and my formal induction into the exclusive heart surgery fraternity that followed.
A month after I joined the team, the ICU nurse handed me a sealed envelope.
“The chief wanted you to have this. It’s your pay.”
I accepted the cover with mixed feelings. On one hand, I was thrilled that my services were considered worthy of being paid for. On the other, I was troubled by my thoughts.
* Had I expected to be paid for doing this?
* Wasn’t what I’m learning worth far more?
* Is what I’m doing worth paying for?
Off and on, all through the night, I thought about it. I even recall discussing it with dad.
The next morning, I walked up to the senior surgeon, handed him the sealed envelope, and said: “Sir, I don’t want to be paid for this.”
He was surprised. But he respected my choice.
To this day, I don’t know (though I’ve sometimes wondered!) if the envelope contained 500 rupees (which was what medical interns were paid each month at the time) or 5,000.
It didn’t matter.
Thinking back, however, I realize that even then, at an early stage of my professional career, a mindset had evolved:
I didn’t want to be paid for my time – but for the value I added.
And before getting paid, I had to learn how to add more value.
Even if it meant spending 22 hours a day in hospital, working hard and long hours… without earning a penny for it.
That’s why I cringe today when freshly graduated engineers in my family debate the choice between working at either of two companies, on the basis of which one will pay them more.
“You shouldn’t even be getting paid more than a base salary,” I think to myself (though saying it out loud might get me ostracized by irate relatives).
But think about it.
We don’t get paid to go to school. Or college.
We get paid for the value we add – AFTER that.
Isn’t that how things should be? Or am I just crazy?
When do YOU think you became “worth paying”?