Glorified Plumbers

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I always thought I wanted to be a doctor when I was younger. I joined the National Ski Patrol at age 14 (EMT on a snowboard), attended a National Youth Leadership forum on Medicine, signed up for Biomedical Engineering in college, sat in on 3 open heart surgeries (thanks to my uncle who is an electrophysiologist), and set out on a path to
becoming Dr. Reich.

Now while I have THE utmost respect for doctors, above every single profession (most of my family are just that..and builders), I realized one day that doctors were nothing more than glorified plumbers.

(Before you say how absurd that comment is, please continue reading)

As I got older, gained some experience and business intuition, it just became clear to me that being a doctor was limited in growth potential. My earnings and output would be tied to a fixed amount of patients or hours, unless I pursued tangent endeavors. If I was going to become a doctor, I wanted to do just that and not become some medical adviser for a television station, movie consultant, etc for additional income.

When I told my parents I didn’t want to be a glorified plumber they laughed with discerning looks on their faces.

“A doctor is by no means a plumber. Are you fu$!ng crazy?”

I didn’t think I was crazy at the time and still don’t now.

I am currently reading The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (have to see what all of this hype is about), and while most of this book is fairly obvious, what he wrote did however validate all of my “doctor” thoughts:

“Some professions, such as dentists, consultants, or massage professionals cannot be scaled: there is a cap on the number of patients or clients you can see in a given period of time….

If you are an idea person, you do not have to work hard, only think intensely. You do the same work whether you produce a hundred units or a thousand. In quant trading, the same amount of work is involved in buying a hundred shares as in buying a hundred thousand, or even a million. It is the same phone call, the same computation, the same legal document, the same expenditure of brain cells, the same effort in verifying that the transaction is right.”

The profession is not, as Nassim puts it, “scalable”.

Thank you Nassim. Case closed (at least for me).

What other jobs are scalable? What jobs aren’t?

Disclosure: I believe serving and helping others is THE very best thing a person can do, and there is no real way around this other than being a “glorified plumber”. This will be my 8th consecutive season volunteering or “glory plumbing” for Mount Snow Rescue. I will be volunteering this weekend for the AST Dew tour competition.

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6 thoughts on “Glorified Plumbers”

  1. Pingback: Glorified Plumbers «

  2. my neighbor growing up was a doctor too. He was on the team that invented the angioplasty. That's scalable as balls! being a doctor means you have an M.D., not that your life revolves around the daily treatment of patients. There are a ton of routes you can take as an M.D. that are scalable and idea-oriented.

  3. Good comment Ben. You are aright. There are a ton of routes you can take as
    an M.D, but I was specifically referring those doctors whose lives do
    revolve around daily treatment of patients. In fact, the doctor that ran the
    medical facility at my mountain would see close to a hundred patients a day
    on some days (not scalable). He sold his practice and now runs an entire
    rehabilitation clinic out in LA (scalable). Having an M.D is scalable, being
    a “doctor” (day to day treatment), is not. Make sense?

  4. Worth keeping in mind that the skill set of any medical professional can evolve to include skills far from the realm of direct patient care. Research activities are the usual direction that people take to upscale (sticking with your terminology) their influence on the world, but there are–as you noted in your comment–plenty of options. I wouldn't be pursuing this direction if I didn't see the potential for influence at a wide range of granularity (my favorite terminology in this arena). What draws me to medicine is exactly this; that I can work toward helping individual patients improve their lives one hour, while in the next I attempt to influence global health development. In fact, the skill set is quite scalable, but as with any other career if you're not careful, you can get tracked into, and potentially stuck, working at only one scale. Nice work on this blog, I haven't been able to sustain a similar effort thus far. dan

  5. I could not have said this better.

    My problem would have been (should I have decided to pursue the doctor
    thing), as you said “get tracked into, and potentially stuck, working at
    only one scale”, because “helping individual patients improve their lives
    one hour” to ME, is one of the best, if not THE BEST, thing you can do.

    Having that one on one relationship with patients, is the gift and curse of
    being a doctor. BUT…the gift completely outweighs the curse…

    Looking forward to see what you do on the global level.

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