Most of the trainees are 24/25yr old when they join their foundation year and start earning their own salary. Almost like a zebra in a herd of horses, it’s easy to spot a year one especially in their first few days at job. They are chirpy with their eyes gleaming with enthusiasm, appear quite confused doing random things and of course are a little nervous. You can hear them sigh often, chuckle often, ask a number of questions and follow their senior house officers on every step they take from the ward to the cafeteria.
Soon after a few weeks, they will learn how to get over their imposter syndrome or move along despite feeling one and be excellent and independent at their jobs. Until then, the nature of the job will beat aspirations, confidence and eagerness they came with out of their system. Some of them will return home in the first week following their oncall or ward cover, crying. And they won’t be the first ones.
Unfortunately no one is immune and sooner they realise that even a brilliant registrar had a story when she went back home, she broke down to tears after her night shift hearing her husband ask ‘do you want cereal or oatmeal?’
‘Too much decision to make!’. She exclaimed. There have been times when consultants have drowned in sobs with a never ending pile of pending reviews in middle of ward round. Deep breath *** It will be fine.
‘We are perfectionists working in the most imperfect environment’, as my senior said. The sooner they accept, the job is a continuum of 24/7 hours, you can only do the best of the hours you have, you have to handover and there will still be patients waiting to be seen when you come back to work tomorrow; the sooner the cogwheel will start running smoother. It’s a skill. A very difficult one to learn, that everyone of us is trying to master.
No one works harder than the foundation year trainees in the hospital. Ward rounds/reviews, constant bleeps, discharge summaries, intravenous cannulation, taking bloods and dealing difficult patients. If you are in a medical school and thought school with constant exams and boring long lecture hours was difficult, buckle up kids, you are in for a shock.
The day you receive your first check, you have to reward yourself. Better do. When you count it to hours pay, for the stress/ anxiety you experienced it equals to nothing. But nevertheless this will be your first check that you have received after years long of dedication to medical school, the times you had to stay in studying while your friends went out to party, when Davidson was your date for Valentine and you slept next to it with the smell of papers and highlighters. Oh the look of every word highlighted in the book. ‘How stupid was I?’ didn’t that nullified the whole purpose of highlighting?
Most of the foundation trainees are possibly the youngest in age among the lot of doctors in the hospital. Freshly baked batch out of the uni. Some of them wouldn’t have held a job apart from a few shifts here and there for extra pocket money; have had no sense of self responsibility dawning upon them prior to this job and still were having maximum support from their parents. Yes, they are in their prime in their early 20s but technically were still a student. Praying everyday to pass the finals, not knowing after those last papers, the world completely changes.
Extra bills, relationships, mortgages and personal ambitions on top of a medical life. The trajectory it takes from there will feel out of control for a while. In some of our cases, I suppose longer than ‘just a while’. Take a deep breath. Welcome to real life! Look at your rota and plan your days, save enough for a down payment on a mortgage and get your debits sorted.
Luckily a medical life has a lot of advantages over other jobs. The cup is half full. You have colleagues of similar age. Going through the same problems you are. Potential friends, maybe a lifelong. You will help each other with the solutions, be a shoulder when the days are chaotic and on good days, to be out and have good laughs. They share your similar intellect. Advantage is, you never have to explain a situation twice, they might possibly be the only one who picks up on your jokes and there are good chances your hobbies are similar as well. You are ambition driven, you were trained for the past 4 or 5 years to be that way. There is a goal for every rotation for every year of your progression to achieve that you can timeline against to feel some degree of accomplishment. And there is a luxury of immediate confirmation for job well done. In the form of a patient’s thank you or a positive gesture. An instant gratification that I know people are dying for in so many other jobs. And if your career stops progressing at a consultant level, the job itself, whether in the form of stress, interesting cases, mini treats like that or the challenges it comes with; to be constantly striving to be better can keep you amused.
However, while being in a pack with ambitious individuals and readers, it is important I feel, not to jump down that rabbit hole. Know what you want as an individual. Just because you are a doctor and achieved your goal of many years does not mean this has to be your only focus. Life doesn’t stop here. Why can’t you be a teacher, a painter or a comedian? You have only started earning your own name with your title, you still have years of life and possibilities before you. Stop being industrialised. Be an individual. You don’t have to run to be a consultant right away if you don’t want to. You will be doing this job for life long, you can’t do it, if you don’t love it. And if you want to change directions it is okay. I have seen consultants start again as a foundation trainee/ senior house officers because they wanted to change their specialities. I respect their decision and absolutely admire their bravery. It takes guts to start again from scratch, give away the power you were used to and rebuild again.
I know I will learn more . It will all come to me. It is a skill and it is knowledge. Education only forms a small base of it. It’s years of practice, a number of cases, faces, diagnosis and commitment. ‘It will all come to you like muscle memories,’ like professors say.
Life is only beginning here on your first day ‘dear doctors’. ‘Welcome. And follow us on the ward round please.’