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Brother Mark is a pseudonym of The Reverend Dr Robert Jaggs-Fowler, a clergyman, physician, writer and poet. His biography can be found at: www.robertjaggsfowler.com

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Whither the Vocation?

In an increasingly consumerist society, the word vocation does not often appear in the context of everyday conversation.

The word derives from the Latin vocare, ‘to call’. It is defined as ‘a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation, especially one requiring dedication. As such, it has most often been applied to the professions and, most particularly, to the practise of medicine, the Church and other humanitarian pursuits.

Historically, a vocation has been seen as something which gives great satisfaction to the person pursuing it and equally great benefits to those on the receiving end of that person’s efforts. However, the implication has usually been that the rewards received in following a vocation are not so much pecuniary than an inner sense of fulfilment. This, of course, is precisely where the concept clashes with the modern consumerist society.

As a doctor, I am conscious of the changes which have come about over recent years in respect to the way General Medical Practitioners work. No longer do they have to be responsible for the well-being of their patients for twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week. The new GP Contract introduced a few years ago enabled GPs to opt out of ‘out of hours’ care, thereby freeing up their evenings and weekends. Of course, this was greeted with delight by the majority of GPs. We had never been properly paid for such work and now we had the opportunity to ‘have a real life’, being free to spend time with family and friends or develop other interests. Neither, of course, were we expected to work throughout the night and then go on to tackle full surgeries the following day in a state of near exhaustion.

However, I am also aware that the above welcomed changes in medical practice have brought with them a downside. Many patients will, of course, lament the passing of the twenty-four hour availability of their ‘own doctor’. However, there are downsides for the doctor as well. It was only when I was recently called on a Sunday morning by a good friend and neighbour who, living on his own, was unable to travel thirty miles to the nearest out-of-hours centre in his present poor state of health that I realised what I was missing. Having visited my friend, I was in the process of collecting some medication for him from an otherwise empty surgery in an otherwise empty market town centre, when it dawned upon me that I was actually enjoying that very process. Stopping to think about this revelation for a few moments, I realised that I missed the relative intimacy of caring for patients within their own homes, at odd times of the day and night, along with the concomitant sense of satisfaction that being able to assist someone in a time of need (for no particular personal gain other than that sense of worth) brings with it.

Summarised in one sentence, I was missing that very aspect of my work which engenders a sense of vocation.

Grayson Perry is a well known transvestite artist who, in 2003, won the Turner Prize for his work. As he was being interviewed by Melvyn Bragg on a recent episode of The South Bank Show, Perry came out with the comment “I define myself by my work.”

How true that statement must be for a great many of us.

I see a sense of vocation in many people around me and not least of all amongst those members who work, either salaried or on a volunteer basis, for the charity, The St John Ambulance. One often wonders what drives the volunteers to give up their free time, often for many hundreds of hours per year, to be available to render first aid at public events. It is the same factor which drives many of the salaried staff to put in many hours of unpaid overtime and to be prepared to give up their Christmas and New Year plans (as they were prepared to do at short notice recently) all with the aim of assisting their fellow man in need.

I believe that vocation is that sense of worth which makes our jobs, our lives and the immediate world in which we live, that extra bit special.

We do not have to be persistently driven by what is increasingly termed the disease of “affluency”. As is written in the Bible (Ephesians ch. 4, v. 1):

‘I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.’

One of my New Year resolutions is to re-focus on my personal sense of vocation. If you are finding your own life lacking that certain intangible factor that health, wealth and love otherwise fails to bring, then I would strongly urge you to do likewise. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you discover.


Anonymous said...

That is truly, not only a thought for today.....but for tomorrow..and, indeed, for tomorrow's tomorrow.

Robert M Jaggs-Fowler said...

I think that there is sometimes a tendency to forget that the reward of a thing well done is to have done it.
Dr T.