So 13th April 1978 I finally qualified as a doctor. It had been a long journey.
My first inkling of wanting to be a doctor was around about the age of 15 years whilst visiting a local geriatric hospital. It was Christmas and my church youth group were singing carols to the inmates. I'm not sure how melodious we sounded but we were at least enthusiastic.
Getting in to medical school was challenging and I failed to get the grades needed for Leeds Medical School first time round. So I went to work for a year as a theatre porter, re-did a couple of A levels in an evening class and at the last minute (well two weeks before the start of the course) snuck into Westminster Medical School (presumably because some other poor soul didn't get the required grades). I was sent to Kings College London for the 2nd Mb and then on to Westminster.
What have I learned in 40 years of doctoring? Here's a bash at 10 things...
1. It is a privilege to be a doctor. Patients of all ages, ethnicities and status put their trust in you, and offer body and soul, even though you may have never met them before.
2. Medicine is endlessly fascinating and life-long learning is vital. I continue to want to learn, both to broaden and deepen my knowledge. I'm glad I have been willing to learn from multiple sources. Medical textbooks, literature, colleagues, patients, personal experience of illness, 'popular ' medical books written for the general public etc etc.
3. It's usually harder being a patient than it is being a doctor. It's good to remind yourself of this from time to time.
4. Every patient has a context. Each will have been brought up in a certain way and will have their own unique combination of life experiences. These will have a major impact on how well they cope with symptoms, uncertainty, doctors, diagnoses and everything else.
5. Most patients are incredibly brave in the face of terminal illness and death, but giving space and time for them to address their fears is crucial.
6. Mental health symptoms, whether from depression, anxiety, or other such illnesses, are agonising and such patients deserve all the help and support we can muster.
7. As in many other fields of work, you won’t often receive thanks and expressions of gratitude, but when you do it’s very touching.
8. Like a West End actor, each performance matters. And so each patient contact is unique and deserves our best attention. We especially need to be reminded of this if we have just had a difficult consultation or similar as we go to our next patient.
9. Kindness matters. Not only for our patients-and what patient doesn’t want the doctor to be kind, but we need to be kind to ourselves. Caring for ourselves physically, emotionally and in every way as best we can. We are not God and have our limits.
10. Seeing so much illness and suffering over the years musn't make us cynical. Rather I chose to look forward to the time when there will be ‘no more tears and no more pain’. It’s the great Christian hope that there will be a time when God fixes everything, when ‘everything sad will come untrue’ (thank you Tolkien).