Tuesday, 26 March 2013

So you want to be a doctor?

It seems I'm stuck in a 10 minute vortex. My day is revolves around 10 minute appointments, the BMJ runs a series on 10 minute consultations for common problems, and just last week I was invited by a good teacher friend to speak at her school to year 11 and above on, 'what attributes do you need to be a doctor''? I was given only10 minutes.

So for the sake of my memory and to simplify I used 5ps

1. Perseverance: I think they were a little surprised that from start to finish (to become a GP at least), the training is 10 years, and if the RCGP get their way, it will go up to11 years next year, and maybe 12 years from 2015. That probably does seem an awful long time when you're 17 years old, and yet I know from experience how little you feel  you know when doing your very first solo surgery, and making important decisions yourself.

2.People: It  may be obvious, but it's preferable if you are a people person. Ok you might be rude and difficult to work with, yet be a brilliant neurosurgeon, and some would argue that that's ok. But yet is it? Purely from a self protection point of view, the kind, thoughtful, empathetic doctor is far less likely to receive serious complaints (it's a though you could 'get away with murder'-ok only joking), it seems if you're kind, that patients will just accept the errors and mishaps. I told them that in my year of qualification, 1978, I paid £40 annually to be affiliated to the Medical Defence Union, and my last year's bill was £6600, so much have claims for medical negligence risen.  And how much more enjoyable the workplace is if you work with supportive and witty colleagues. Oh yes, it really helps if you like patients too.

3.Pressure: There's no doubt that the job can be very stressful. At times the demands seem to outstrip one's experience, knowledge, wisdom, energy or inclination, but by and large, doctors just press on through it. That isn't to say one shouldn't look at the work load and think through ways of coping better. I've been so helped by the Managing Stress book which I have recommended to countless patients. It's helpful use of the seesaw metaphor which is at the heart of the book, and its look at demands and coping on opposite sides and what you can do about each, is simple but ultimately so useful.

4. Problems: There is a real element of problem solving in medicine, whether in research, surgery, hospital medicine, general practice, or whatever.  For a GP at least, each day brings a mix of undifferentiated problems, which require analysis, synthesis and some solutions.  The ability to think quickly and adaptably is vital, and of course to be a life long student of the human condition aids the problem solving.

5. Privilege: Its not all giving in medicine, since there is an immense amount of sheer privilege in the daily practice. Whether in being the first to know outside of the excited couple who have just discovered that they are expecting their first child, or the 84 year old cockney lady who tells you with tears in her eyes, of her early life abuse, which she has never told anyone before,  or just being aware of a variety of socially embarrassing 'secrets' about so many people, and which patents entrust you with. Oh yes its a great privilege, and not one to be taken for granted.

Yep, it's a great career, and I've loved it.
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