Vocational Awe


Vocational Awe


Leonard Zwelling


It is said that if you love your job, you never work a day of your life. This is pure rubbish. Even if you do love your job, you don’t love it all the time. During the time you don’t love it, it’s a job and a job is a contract between you and an employer or customer or client that you will perform to some standard for which you will receive remuneration.

The opinion piece from The New York Times on June 6 by Simone Stolzoff, an author, focuses on the writers’ strike in Hollywood. The studios seem to think that the writers ought to be thankful that they have jobs so laden with creativity that they wouldn’t protest their less than adequate pay, the threat of artificial intelligence, or the manner in which their residual pay is shrinking during the age of streaming video. Well, surprise. The prestige of being a writer is not quite enough.

Other occupations where the “vocational awe” is supposed to offset the poor pay, adverse working conditions, and the expectation of extra-long hours without additional pay include teachers and librarians. New York City Mayor Eric Adams says “teaching is a calling,” but he has not finalized an inflation-based pay increase for New York’s teachers. Vocational awe is defined by Fobazi Ettarh, a librarian, as “how the perceived sense of righteousness of “an “industry obscured the issues that existed in it.” A survey in 2020 noted that “employers see poor treatment of workers—such as expecting overtime work without pay or asking people to do demeaning tasks that aren’t part of their job descriptions—as more acceptable if the workers are thought to be passionate about what they do.” But who decides if the workers are really passionate enough to work for inadequate compensation?

I want to argue that this has been the stance of employers of doctors for years and it’s getting worse. This became evident during Covid when all kinds of health care professionals were expected to work until exhaustion, but received no battle pay for the effort. It continues to this day in academic medicine where the electronic medical record has doubled work for the doctors and where the shortage of nurses has thrust more and more work onto the doctors that is ”demeaning.”

Perhaps the doctors can learn from the Hollywood writers. It may well be an honor and a privilege to be a creative writer for a living, but that does not mean you should make less of a living. In the case of doctors, both in academia, and in large conglomerate practices often run out of hospital systems, the expectation of working way more than 40 hours per week, doing all kinds of administrative chores that have nothing to do with medical care, and having to be in a constantly great disposition lest someone accuse you of non-professionalism has brought many physicians (note, I will not refer to my fellow doctors as providers) to the end of their collective rope.

For many years I have advocated for the clinical faculty of MD Anderson to do one little thing. Just turn any Wednesday into a Sunday. No clinics. No templates. Emergency care only in the out-patient treatment areas and the emergency center and, of course, on the in-patient units. That’s what Anderson is like on Sunday. If the clinical faculty would do this one thing on any Wednesday, they could bring the administration to the table with regard to working conditions, over booked templates, and inadequate support help.

As the article says, “workers are recognizing their collective strength. Employees at workplaces across the country have organized and are fighting for better conditions.”

The librarian Ms. Ettarh says, “workers are seeing that unless they work together to fight back, institutions will grind them to dust.”

Sound familiar? It should. Many great MD Anderson faculty members have been ousted for highly questionable offenses. Many still there are being “ground to dust.” Those ousted were not given due process and their ouster has scared the rest of the faculty into silence—exactly as Dr. Pisters hoped it would.

It is indeed a privilege to be on the MD Anderson faculty. But that does not mean that the faculty have no rights and one of the rights is to be led by equals. This is not the case at present. Until the current leadership of MD Anderson are the ones being ousted, this will go on. It may well be awesome to work at Anderson, but that does not mean faculty ought to be taken advantage of as they are at present.

It could end in a heartbeat. Any given Wednesday.

Dr. Zwelling’s new novel, Conflict of Interest: Money Drives Medicine and People Die is available at:


on amazon if you search using the title and subtitle 


directly from the publisher Dorrance at: https://bookstore.dorrancepublishing.com/conflict-of-interest-money-drives-medicine-and-people-die-pb/m

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