Posted by on July 28, 2015 | 1 comment

Letter to Junior Doctors #6: You Won’t Like All Your Patients

Human beings are said to have around 50,000 thoughts per day. As a stressed-out, sleep-deprived junior doctor, chances are high that among those thousands of thoughts will be ones which aren’t particularly charitable towards your patients. “Why must I look after people who can’t be bothered to look after themselves?” “Did this guy really need to have his heart attack on my call?” “Who can I offload this patient to?” Thoughts are powerful. According to ancient teachings thoughts create worlds. What we think influences how we feel, the actions we take, and our view on the world. But our thoughts are only powerful if we pay attention to them. Any thought that we notice but allow to move on becomes nothing more than one of the thousands of valueless thoughts we have each day, no more meaningful than the “that’s a green Volvo” thought you had driving to work the other day. The truth is you will sometimes have nasty thoughts about your patients. You aren’t going to love...

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Posted by on July 21, 2015 | 5 comments

Letter to Junior Doctors #5: Want to Get Rich?

When I was growing up the only rich people in my community were shop-owners and doctors. For real! There was no other – honest – way of making a really good living. The medical profession has always had an elevated status in society, and this isn’t only confined to the kind of disadvantaged community I grew up in. Doctors all over the world are regarded as the first citizens in any community. This, together with the tough selection criteria for getting into medical school, has contributed to the allure of the profession for the more ambitious people in the population. When I was writing my memoir I looked back at my medical school year book and it was interesting to me how many of my colleagues said that they would have gone into Business Science or Commerce had they not been accepted into medical school. Even recently when I spoke to a group of medical students at my alma mater, the University of Cape Town’s Faculty of Health Sciences,...

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Posted by on July 14, 2015 | 3 comments

Letter to Junior Doctors #4: Bullying Sucks

One afternoon in the emergency unit a senior medical registrar came to me while I was making notes in a patient’s folder. “Come with me,” he said gruffly, and he refused to tell me where he was summoning me to. Dutifully I followed him. A few minutes later we arrived in the women’s surgical ward, and he stopped abruptly in front of a patient’s bed. “Do you recognise her?” he asked, pointing at the woman sitting up in bed. I shook my head. I was used to seeing so many patients in Casualty that few of their faces stuck in my mind. The registrar sniggered. “You referred her to me yesterday. She clearly wasn’t a medical case, was she?” He then went on to criticize every assessment I had made before he stormed off in a huff. So, I made a mistake. I get that. Did that really warrant the trip to the surgical ward and the telling off in front of the patient? Hardly. Clearly this Med Reg...

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Posted by on July 7, 2015 | 2 comments

Letter to Junior Doctors #3: Get a Life!

Your response to my suggestion that you get a life – by which I mean interests, friends, hobbies, etc – may understandably be: “Sure. When?” You are probably working so hard so much of the time that all you want to do when you get home is sleep or veg out in front of the television. Here’s the thing: getting a life is a form of self-care; it says “I honour my life and my interests”. Being a junior doctor – a doctor at any stage, in fact – can be all-consuming, and before you know it your life can easily shrink down to simply surviving from one shift to another. But life is bigger than that, and engaging with it in ways that have nothing to do with your work will help to bring perspective to the day-to-day. Join a sports club; enroll on a writing course; take long walks; learn to cook… whatever. It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as it’s something that feeds...

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