5 years of hoops jumped through, each at the precise height, angle and speed required by the medical school. Final OSCEs and written examinations completed. Now it was just a question of awaiting results for the final time and despite going through this every year for the past 4 years the waiting did not get easier.
The deaneries (hospitals we were allocated to for our first jobs) were already tempting fate by beginning correspondence with: “Dear Doctor…” Talk about counting chickens before any eggs had hatched.
I know a consultant surgeon who wears a particular surgical cap for every procedure. The one time he used a disposable one the procedure didn’t go well. Now he ensures he is always wearing this one surgical cap. Doctors are evidence based. How can a cap affect surgical outcomes? Superstition seems to thread its skinny fingers into any tiny cracks prying them open.
Results day eventually came and we found out the usual way by logging on with our candidate numbers. Double, triple and quadruple check. Each time it still said: “Written Examinations: Pass, OSCEs: Pass” !!!
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Last week I became a Foundation Year 1 (F1) doctor! A few days of induction and shadowing the outgoing F1 doctors, they moved to their F2 jobs and we stepped into their quite large and well-worn shoes. Sudden responsibilities and lists of jobs generated by ward rounds seemed to keep growing and that dreaded bleep would come alive at the worst moments. Supposedly we will get quicker but we survived week 1 and the nurses were amazing! Thank you nurses.
Right now I still find it hard to believe I’m doing this. It wasn’t until recently when it sank in that actually I had become a doctor – and I nearly had a wobbly emotional moment.
Has it been worth it? Yes in many different ways. Throughout medical school and as a very junior doctor so far, it has been a privilege. As an F1, my job involves lots of paperwork, organising and ensuring all patients are seen on ward rounds (you’d be surprised how easy a patient could be missed, especially outliers – those patients on other wards but who are still your responsibility), prescribing: fluids; pain relief; anti- sickness; regular meds and completing the dreaded administrative paperwork required to discharge patients. All straightforward but there is so much of it with constant interruptions from nurses chasing you on tasks.
There have also been times when I’ve already been able to make a difference. Once, I was stopped in the corridor, “Excuse me……” expecting to be asked directions, I looked up but recognised the woman in front of me as the wife of a patient I had seen during the weekend shift. She said: “I don’t know your name but I wanted to say thank you for explaining everything and being there for my husband. I’ve told all the staff on the ward about you too…” Another time, a man shouted my name and then thanked me for placing a catheter which relieved his painful urinary retention (unable to pee). I didn’t recognise him out of his hospital gown and he looked so well.
On the negative side, the hours are really long with little control over them which affects free time outside of work. Missing weddings and important family or friends’ events and not being able to see your own family are more sacrifices to come. If becoming rich is your objective, there are much easier ways to earn far more. Quitting a job for medicine means you may never recoup earnings lost whilst studying then starting on a junior doctor salary of £22,862 (currently).
someone not only moved the goalposts but at the same time smeared a little bit of Type 6 all over them too
Finally, practically all clinical staff are concerned about the future of the NHS which is undergoing transition to the extent that patient care is a concern. It feels like things are in a bit of a mess and there are still huge uncertainties with junior doctor contracts. I’m ecstatic to have qualified but the ongoing politics have tarnished that feeling of achievement. It feels as though whilst we had our heads down working hard trying to qualify, someone not only moved the goalposts but at the same time smeared a little bit of Type 6 over them too. Hopefully this will be fixed soon.
In retrospect if I knew the extent to which it would have been so challenging with so much life disruption I’d think twice, but ultimately would still have done it. Most medical students and applicants have a special kind of stubborn blind (or crystal clear?) determination in terms of achieving objectives. I’ve never met a group with such a high level of motivation. If I could go back in time to warn my old self about the road ahead, I don’t think “medical school applicant” me would have listened.
I thought a blog about becoming a medical student and doctor later in life would be useful and interesting for others thinking about doing the same. The main differences due to being older were: higher stakes (i.e. more to lose); huge change in lifestyle, different priorities and worries in life; needing to juggle middle aged life and medical school and of course being mistaken for a consultant countless times. On the plus side, experience and previous jobs helped with communication with patients of all ages, medical professionals and students alike and communication is a huge part of the job. Otherwise the majority of my experiences were probably the same as anyone else’s regardless of age. What it does show is that it can be achieved whatever your age.
It was an extraordinary and privileged experience. However there is really nothing extraordinary about me. If you’re motivated enough you’ll be offered a place and graduate from medical school. What was difficult was doing it well without it being totally disruptive to ordinary life. But if you choose this pathway you already know that you (and your family) won’t have an ordinary life. What is “ordinary” these days anyway?
Thank you for visiting and hearing my story and thank you also to all those I’ve met along the way especially my family and especially those superhero patients, doctors, nurses and classmates without whom I would have really struggled.
If you’re on this path already then best of luck to you. When it gets tough, keep calm and remember that you definitely can get through it too.