The Medic Journal

The musings of a fourth year English medical student

Sunday, 10 September 2017


Well, Summer is over and so it’s back to placement.

Going into fourth year feels scary. At my university, we sit our medical finals in fourth year, not fifth year. Cue immense pressure and frantic worrying! Most of the time spent this year is in clinical placement. I chose to change hospitals and am in a small district general. Personally I think the smaller the hospital the better the teaching. I was in a large university teaching hospital in second year, where nobody knew my name. Then in third year I moved to a district general, where I felt like I had a place and people didn’t just look straight over my shoulder. Now I am in an even smaller district general and I cannot say enough good things about it. Everyone seems to have more time to teach; everyone wants to teach, which is ironic now that I’ve left my ‘teaching’ hospital.

In spite of how wonderful I think the placement is going, I am lacking so much confidence. When I’m asked to do some bloods or a cannula I have 5 seconds where I freeze up – I dread that I’m going to mess it up. Sometimes I am too scared to speak up and ask to be involved more. It can be hard to pipe up and say “I want to go to theatre, too, please”. I really have to force myself to be brave, because what you put in is what you get out of the placement.

On Friday I was really struggling. I felt as if I had got to know a patient and they seemed to be very polite and sweet. Then we had a long chat about this patient with the consultant and the problems they faced. We were all dodging the elephant in the room, until the consultant said: “I don’t think [they’re] going to leave hospital”. I have been involved in the care of dying patients before, but this felt so much worse. This person was not actively dying, but things weren’t getting better. Now that I felt I knew them better, I felt even more sorry for them and cried quite a lot when I got home. I’m not sure how I’m going to feel when I next see them.

I do feel drained and scared, but I also know there’s nothing else I would rather be doing. I can’t think of any job more rewarding or interesting.

Thursday, 3 August 2017


I am just over half way through my medical degree and wanted share what I've noticed about this crazy job I've signed myself up to!

You will never work a 9-5

This may seem obvious, but if you work in the NHS (and probably in the private medical sector, too) a ‘normal’ working day doesn’t exist. Even if you do purely clinic-orientated work, normal working hours don’t exist. Nothing ever runs on time, and your moral duty often results in working well beyond your set hours. You may need to get to clinic/General Practice early so that you can plough through the mountain of important paperwork. And you never get paid those extra hours you put in. There’s no ‘flexi-time’; you can’t take time off because you had no lunch break and worked an extra 3 hours the day before.

There’s a reason it is a vocation rather than a career

Adding to the previous point, your job extends well beyond your set working hours. Doctors have annual appraisals, and they need evidence to show they keep up to speed with advances in their speciality. This includes reading journals every week, attending conferences, teaching, potentially juggling an academic role alongside their clinical role. Medicine is seen as a vocation because these extra hours are part of the dedication required. This is the standard, and shows that when you decide to be a doctor  you decide to commit a lot of yourself to the job.  Of course, anyone who wants to be exceptional in any field has to put in crazy hours – it’s not unique to medicine!

Listening and watching is just as important as book knowledge

I’m not the smartest medic out there. However, as Osler once said “Listen to your patient; he is telling you the diagnosis”. I have learnt so much more from patients by taking a step back (sometimes literally) and observing how they act, their surroundings and what they say, than from what is written in their notes.

You need a backbone and a tough skin to survive the medical environment

People are rude. When I started my first placement I was absolutely petrified, and I get nervous every time I start a new rotation. People will try to walk over you, and I’ve learnt the hard way that standing up for yourself gets you more respect than just sitting back and taking it. People are a lot nicer when you’re keen, polite but also not a wallflower. Chocolates definitely help as well.

The best doctors love their jobs

You can be the smartest student and work harder than anyone else, but if you don’t love your job then what’s the point? The doctors that have inspired me the most have been the ones that wanted to teach and get genuinely excited when they talk about medicine. Of course it’s not always fun, there are lots of stressful and sad moments. But the doctors who really seem to love their jobs are the ones I aspire to be like, regardless of how many letters they have after their name or how far through they are in their training.
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