Apple Humble and Custard

I have been thinking about where I am in the training pathway. In terms of seniority, I’m at the bottom of the pyramid. These thoughts may well linger until I’m a consultant, which is at least a decade away and it seems soooo far. I knew this well before applying to medical schools, but at that time I was more concerned with getting one of my ancient bunion feet through their well guarded, reinforced doors.

Being mature medical students, we may have achieved other things in life but in the eyes of the healthcare system we are still simply medical students. Previous accomplishments on our CVs might have granted a small sense of pride and demonstrated ability but might now be irrelevant. Regardless of whether we were once CEOs, engineering post-doctorate geniuses, professional sportspeople or stay at home mums/dads, it almost doesn’t matter and as mature medical students we have to swallow the same helpings of humble pie as our younger classmates. I suppose I could say force fed as there’s not much that can be done about the situation – it’s just how it is. Many skills, particularly interpersonal, management and organisational skills are definitely transferrable but knowing the inlet angles for turbine blades of a specific jet engine probably is not.

Being older often helps with patients, but not always with staff. When meeting any new staff there is always a familiar eye dart” from face down to name badge – searching for the words that denote one’s grade and thereafter how to behave towards the badge-wearer. Everyone does it and at all grades, due simply to the hierarchical structure.

Different members of hospital staff have widely differing opinions about medical students. We may be seen as being: useful, helpful, eager or sometimes useless, lazy, hindrances. Last week, a consultant said to me: “Hey you medical student, I’m too busy, go with Dr Smith”. In her eyes I was nameless even though she’d just done the eye dart thing and my name didn’t matter because I was “only” a medical student. Another time I was dismissed with a: “Shoo-shoo medical student, I need to use that computer” They need to remember that not so long ago, they were also “Hey you, shoo-shoo medical students.” I have no issues with those younger than me telling me what to do and don’t need or deserve special treatment, but good manners are fundamental and rudeness is unnecessary.

In military terms I’m an ageing cadet in basic training, no tours of duty under my belt, no medals. I’m still hoping just to make it to the passing out parade with proud family watching. Already in my 4th year of training but not yet even a private. I’m in the meat grinder again, somewhere near the beginning, being obediently churned through but this time hopefully emerging as well trained mincemeat (mutton dressed as lamb?) ready for action in the NHS.

Frozen meat grinder GW 300 – Seydelmann. Source. CC BY-SA 3.0

Sometimes I think about my previous job, a job that had little wrong with it, paid the bills and allowed me to live a decent comfortable life. A perfectly good and even enviable job. When I gave it up, I told myself “There may will come a time in the future when you’ll miss this job, the job in which you worked hard to reach a senior position, the job which surrounded you with great people and which you may regret giving up.” I told myself that, I did. But I also told myself I’ll regret it even more if I don’t try – so I thought “f*%k it” and hit “Send”

So, in truth I do miss being in a position of seniority that roughly correlates with my age, my ex-colleagues, the relative flexibility of my previous career (oh the flexibility!) and having a salary!

But (and a very big butt): aside from the odd crass ignoramus, I love what I am doing. Everyday I’m seeing and learning fascinating things that few others can or will ever see. The new born whose first breath I witnessed, the young man who walked right out of hospital but who only a few days earlier was unconscious and critically ill, the lady who can see clearly again, the caretaker who walks pain free after his hip replacement. It’s not always a happy ending but just to meet these people and catch a glimpse into their lives is a huge privilege. Also being taught by those rare breeds of doctors and consultants who know exactly how to teach and genuinely care whether medical students are learning or not.

So my medical student colleagues old and young; persevere with cultivating that thick lichenified skin, we are bottom of the pile – munching humble pie, but on top of the world and there are infinite helpings of great custard.

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10 thoughts on “Apple Humble and Custard

  1. Great post 🙂
    I am 35 also have a career at the moment as a partner in a firm and am studying GCSE Physics (as we speak for BMAT!) as my mail gave me the sign that there was a new post from the blogger I have been following 🙂
    So I am planning on applying this 2016 entry cycle and it’s great to hear your stories as it makes the whole process a lot more real… Sometimes one gets a little too lost in just “getting into medicine” and stops to think about what kind of difficulties we may face as the oldie but goldies 🙂
    So thank you for the reality check it really is good to know! And well done you for living your dreams…

    1. Thank you 🙂 Getting into medical school is a huge undertaking and it is a journey full of ups and downs but a good helping of determination really helps as does taking it one step at a time. Good luck with BMAT and the interview process fellow goldie-oldie!

  2. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Much of what you wrote struck a chord with me. I’m currently retaking A Levels to meet the entry req for medicine at Bristol after a 10 year civil service career. As the previous poster says, we can be so focused upon getting accepted, we overlook some of the realities.

    Keep pressing forward, as will we, hopefully we’ll all get to be a tiny part of the small miracles that happen every day & it will all have been worth it!

      1. Thank you. Yes the realities do unfortunately include biting one’s tongue and getting on with it and jumping through lots of hoops never mind the daunting prospect of giving up a perfectly good job but all the new experiences and knowledge gained have so far made up for it. It sounds like you’ve got a great offer from someone already at Bristol too! Thanks fellow blogger peachylau and good luck kirstyg2014! 🙂

  3. I hold great respect to those that are mature aged and in the field of medicine. No body likes to start out afresh in a completely new field, especially when they were once well established and in the top ranks of their previous field. Why last night, I was working with an SHO (3rd year out med school) who had white hair looking like he was in his 50’s. I admired his courage to step into such a role so late in his life. Mature aged students/doctors just bring about them a sense of calmness and respect for their life experiences. So keep going with your studies!

  4. YES to the humble pie. I completely understand this feeling. I found it so difficult to come back to uni this term after 3 weeks at home. I really cannot wait to be done with this pre-clinical year, I think being in the clinics will be a good reminder of why I am doing this (so in the mean time I cling in to my academic Dr. title by using it when ordering my food shopping….it’s all about the little things in life).

  5. Really enjoyed this post and can definitely relate. I’m 33 atm and on my first year of med school. All of my classmates are 18-19 years old!! (We start med school right after high school here). It’s crazy. It’s completely worth it. The way is hard for everyone, and I think we actually have more of an advantage over the youngsters… also, like you said, there will be an infinite amount of custard when we finally get through it. Keep it up! 🙂

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