My first job as a junior doctor was at an East London tertiary hospital on the geriatrics ward. Even before commencing my first day I had already reached information overload from the trust induction and FY1 shadowing.
As instructed, I had amassed notes galore and on day one arrived full of confidence to the geriatric ward. My other weapons of choice included my handy clip-on pen torch, my newly-assigned bleep – because you weren’t a proper doctor without one – and my shiny NHS ID badge displaying my nervous smile/grimace emblazoned with the title ‘FY1 DOCTOR’ (aka, don’t expect too much).
I was ready for anything.
The consultant and the team introduced themselves. ‘That went well,’ I told myself, having earlier had visions of becoming so anxious that I forgot my own name. Full of confidence, I accompanied the team on their morning round.
We had only reached the second patient when the emergency alarm went off. The patient in the adjacent bay had started to have a seizure.
My vision of what would happen in a scenario like this was very different to the reality. As soon as I heard the alarm I was ready to fling my stethoscope off, run to the appropriate bed and save a life! Oh no, those countless hours spent in front of the television watching Holby City hadn’t been wasted. Every Saturday night they showed the nation how to rescue patients on the verge of death, and now I was about to star in my very own episode.
However, no one had told this to the team. They calmly turned on their heels and walked – yes, not even jogged – straight to the patient. They assessed the patient, prescribed and administered medications and the patient improved rapidly within minutes.
Witnessing an emergency so soon on my first day hit home the reality and responsibility of my job, but it also gave me a sense of calm to be able to handle these situations myself in the future. Whatever programme I was going to star in, it certainly wasn’t going to be Holby.
Witnessing an emergency so soon on my first day hit home the reality and responsibility of my job.
For weeks before starting my job I had visions of myself managing cardiac arrests on my own, single-handedly telling families that their relative had days to live or having to decide whether to palliate a patient without any senior help.
I am thankful to say I was never put in these situations and now, with three years of experience behind me, I can still say I haven’t. The NHS relies and survives on teamwork. This is why the specialty system works, as different people have different knowledge. If there was one thing I could recommend to future juniors, it would be to ask for help.
I’m still learning as a doctor and there are new challenges that I face every day, but with the support of my team we tackle them together. I have, however, updated my notebook to a more tech-savvy version on my iPhone, and my pen torch is somewhat redundant on the obstetrics ward.
I sometimes look back at my ID badge and, apart from noticing the youthful appearance that I had three years ago, I think how much I’ve learnt, how far I’ve come and the colleagues and patients that have been a part of it.
Dr Suzanne Reilly
Dr. Suzanne Reilly is currently undertaking obstetrics and gynaecology training in London. Suzanne qualified from Peninsula Medical School. She is currently doing a master's in medical education at UCL and hopes to gain more experience in women's health globally.
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