In elementary school, teachers often ask “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Common answers include “a teacher”, “a fireman”, “a police officer”, “an actress”, and of course “a doctor.” Without doing any surveys, statistical studies or in-depth research, I am willing to bet that many Vietnamese-Americans have had the idea of being a doctor at some point in their lives.
As a child we were told to do well in elementary school so we could have a good foundation for junior high, then do well in junior high to get into the honors classes in high school, then do well in high school to get into the best colleges, and do well in college to get into medical school. And then what? And then life will be great because being a doctor is the best thing you could be!
I am being overly dramatic of course, but in doing so I bring home a serious point. Many Vietnamese and Vietnamese-Americans are OBSESSED with being and getting doctors into the family. I am sure that this doctor-ideal sprung from the hardships in Vietnam and the society there where doctors were well-educated, well-respected individuals. I do not argue with that. However, growing up in America also means exposure to different types of occupations, interests and different ideas of “success.”
By the time one gets to high school or college, one may find themselves thinking that the only career path to take is to become a doctor. Not a nurse, pharmacist, or other medical professional, but a doctor. Being a doctor meant money, prestige, power, respect and happiness. I am sure that there are many doctors who have all of these things, but there are other non-doctors who have all these things as well. And I am sure there are the share of doctors who are lacking more than a few of those things that we hope to have in our lives.
I often ask myself, if the Vietnamese-Americans who were brought up with the thought that they must become a doctor to live a decent and fulfilling life and actually went through with it, were really all that happy? Part of this stems from the fact that I decided not to go through that path because of self-doubt, laziness, and lack of persistence. I also wonder if those Vietnamese-Americans who did it realize deep down inside why they did it? And how many of them really wanted to do it or just did it because it was “the only way”?
I have heard of so-called “doctors’ clubs” where “doctor-hunters” go to social events where single doctors meet, in order to get themselves a doctor-husband and start a doctor-family. This sounds rather appalling doesn’t it? But these women think that if they cannot be a doctor themselves, they had better grab a hold of a man who is one to put themselves and their families within the respected “circle” in the Vietnamese-American society. Sometimes these women are pressured by their families who will tell them that they need to marry a doctor for the wealth and integrity of the family.
I admit that I do think that doctors are one of the most well-respected professions in our society as Vietnamese-Americans and as Americans. It is a selective profession, where only the best prevail, it is a hard-working profession, and it is a difficult profession. However, it concerns me that doctors are put up on such a high pedestal which makes it harder on Vietnamese-Americans to break out of the traditional occupation molds and venture into more risky and adventurous fields. Perhaps the Vietnamese-American priorities and ideals will change and evolve, only time will tell…