So ends my first week as officially not-a-doctor.
It’s been a challenging start; I’ve had to start at the beginning with most aspects of the job, but thankfully I’ve just been shadowing the current marketing manager here. She’s breaking me in slowly – a stark contrast to my first week in Paediatrics, where we had one day of child and baby resuscitation training, a quick summary of all the serious health problems that we might see and some guidelines on how to treat them, before being thrown into a row of night shifts where I was suddenly responsible for a ward full of babies.
The pressure I feel now is of a different kind. I’ve entered a world where under-performance will get you fired. In the NHS, sheer desperation and bureaucratic inadequacy means that incompetent staff can easily hide their flaws. I’m glad to say I’ve only ever met a handful of doctors like this – some of whom would have been OK with a bit more support and training, and some of whom made me wonder how the hell they ever got through medical school.
Despite the threat of dismissal however, there are many pleasant things about this new job, and some of them I find downright bizarre…
1. Coat hooks
In my first rotation as a newly qualified doctor, I worked in the busy acute medical unit at Queen’s hospital. The unit looked very new and flashy (PFI, of course) but there was very little space for the staff. The nurses had a small room away from the unit, and the consultants were crammed into offices the size of cupboards. As for the junior doctors, we had the hallway between the unit and a storage hall. There was a handful of lockers there, but not enough for everyone, and a filing cabinet upon which, if you got there early enough, you could grab a space for your bag and coat. If not, then you had to put your stuff on the floor. There was no lock on the door and several people had things stolen. As a fresh-faced F1, I just accepted this, but as time went by, I became aware that other people had a different opinion.
My friends would ask me where I kept my money and phone. It shocked them when I said that I kept a small amount of cash in my handbag for emergencies or lunches. When we were told not to carry handbags any more as they were ‘unhygienic’, I kept them in the pockets of my scrubs or wedged into my bra.
As I hung my coat up on a hook in the office this week, I suddenly realised I’d never have to scrape its trampled form off a hospital floor again to brush off the muddy shoe prints. Luxury!
2. Lunch breaks
On my first day, I was taken out for lunch by my new boss. Some of the team came along as well – they told me it was a company tradition. We ate at a nice Thai restaurant and the IT team even had some beers. All in all, we were out of the office for nearly one and half hours! I thought back to one lunchtime in orthopaedics, when my bleep went off so many time that it took my all afternoon to finish one sandwich, and wondered how these people ever got anything done.
3. Everyone really respects the fact that I’m a doctor
When I met one of my new colleagues, she actually exclaimed, “Oh my goodness, so you’re an actual doctor?” I guess you would expect to find a doctor in a hospital, so it’s not a big deal. It’s even less significant when you’re surrounded by brilliant senior doctors who are much more qualified and cleverer than you. As a result, I’ve never really thought of my degree as being anything special, but here in the real world, having a junior doctor on the team is almost revolutionary. The head of PR is excited because he’ll no longer have to waste time getting medical articles proof-read by busy consultant partners, and my partner in marketing is relieved she’ll no longer have to struggle to translate medical language into lay terms. I kind of wish other doctors like me had the chance to see their skills in this context, because you suddenly realise you are an exceptionally trained and rather useful individual.
4. My appearance
I’m wary about saying this, given the recent allegations in the media that us poor, pathetic, baby-making females are responsible for the downfall of the NHS. I merely note this as a difference in my life now.
As a junior doctor, my focus wasn’t on the way I looked. I admit, I started out as well groomed and image-conscious, but that was quickly knocked out of me by the strict rules that exist in hospitals. I looked my worst during nightshifts, as I was just too tired to bother. After my shower, I’d pull my hair back into a quick ponytail, and wouldn’t bother with make-up. In the changing rooms at work, I’d change my sweatpants and T-shirt for oversized scrubs and my indoor trainers. If I went to the loo, I’d avoid looking at myself in the mirror.
When I did clinics, I could dress a little better, but the bare-below-the-elbow rule still stood, so no bangles, watches, false nails, nail polish or rings (except a wedding band) were allowed. This is all for the sake of hygiene, though interestingly, there isn’t any solid evidence behind it. So much for our “evidence-based NHS”. I didn’t mind it that much however, until I got engaged. I loved my engagement ring and all it stood for, and taking it off every morning was a bitter reminder that this profession would eat into my personal life as long as I remained in it.
5. Individual adjustments
I guess this ties in with the respect thing. My colleague suffers from back pain, so she sits on one of those exercise balls while she works. She must have exceptional balance because she never rolls off.
It reminded me of one manager I had as a doctor, who treated the doctors like we were his minions. He also had back pain, for which he was given a specially-made chair which must have cost the NHS thousands. Meanwhile, we doctors would spend any free time we had on night shifts trying to put our heads down on a desk or the floor. I once thought myself very clever and pushed two wheely chairs together to make a bed. I curled up between the hard plastic arms, and I did fall asleep for a few minutes, but as I lost consciousness, the wheely chairs slowly wheeled apart and I fell straight down the middle. As I rubbed the bump on my head, I looked at the clock: 3 am. Still 7 hours to go. Brilliant.
6. Being able to do other stuff
I haven’t really tried this yet, but looking at my colleagues in the office, it’s definitely possible. I always wondered how my fiancé seemed to get so much done – buying things online, organising appointments, sorting out holidays and payments… I thought he was just better at life than me.
The problem was, having a bleep on me meant I couldn’t just pop to the bank or the post office in my (usually non-existent) lunch break. The terrible phone signal that many hospitals seem to suffer from made sorting my life out pretty difficult. I remember leaning off a stairwell towards a window during my last placement, trying to speak to the letting agency about our broken extractor fan. The irony if I’d broken my neck in process! Frankly, I was often just so busy, that the thought of doing anything else overwhelmed me.
7. Sitting at a desk
As my role now mostly involves the internet, I spend a lot of time sitting at a computer. I suppose I did so as a doctor as well, but my screen sessions were always interspersed with exercise. I could walk literally miles seeing patients, going to the lab or the imaging department, or following seniors around. Then there was heavy lifting: after hunting endlessly for a patient’s notes you discover them in another patient’s slot and realise they are absolutely massive. While struggling to pick them up, about 20 bits of paper fly out, littering the floor. You sigh and bend down to pick them up, wondering what on earth they did with the £10 million that was promised to make a ‘paperless’ system.
Then of course, there was running to crash calls. I used to sprint at school, so I quite enjoyed this bit, especially once I’d worked out what to do when I got there. I tracked my footsteps one day with an app on my phone and it came to 12000 steps. I don’t think I’ll ever get anywhere near that in this job.
8. Access to the boss
I appreciate that this is unusual, and it’s one of the perks of working for a small startup. I see the CEO every day and have access to the medical lead by phone if I need her. She came in on Friday and we sat down to go through the way the website’s content is written. I told her that I thought the language was a bit too medical in places, and that simplifying it might be more comprehensible for potential customers. She took my opinions on board and we made a plan for going forward within a few minutes. In the NHS, to change anything takes weeks of planning, getting permissions, consulting, battling through red tape and reviewing – and that’s as a consultant.
I once tried to change things as a junior and ultimately it got me trouble with the Deanery. I’ll tell you about it some other time. For now, it’s nice to have a voice.
Before I started my orthopaedic job, I was sent an email with a request to send documents such as my GMC certificate, my proof of no criminal record certificate, my immunisation records for Hep B and other infections, my proof of identity, proof of address, medical degree, etc. etc.
Also attached were about 15 different forms to fill in – IT access, smartcard appliation, parking permit, library access, mess subscription and more. I did everything about 2 months before starting and sent it all in. On my first day at the hospital, we were informed that the paperwork for several of us had been ‘lost’ and that we’d have to fill in all the forms again and bring in all our documents. We weren’t allowed to start work until everything had been done and approved.
I started this job with my passport and a couple of references.
Fridays in hospitals feel like a mass panic. Everyone knows that for the next 2 days, there will be only emergency cover available, so you do everything in your power to get things done in advance. If you think your patient might go home on Sunday, you prepare all their paperwork so that some poor soul on call doesn’t have to waste time writing a discharge summary. You fight your colleagues for access to the handover systems to give the on call team a summary of your patients and make any requests for blood tests, scans or reviews over the weekend, and as everybody is doing this at the same time, the system inevitably crashes at 4pm, leaving you banging your head on the keyboard for the next couple of hours. And if you happen to be the one on call on a Friday, good luck to you. Freed from the demands of work and school, the people come flooding into A+E, followed later by the drunk party goers who’ve fallen down staircases or decided that jumping off that roof was a good idea.
So there I was on Friday, trying to get things finished off quickly before the weekend, when my colleague tapped my shoulder and offered me a glass of wine. I turned around, and on the table was a selection of cheese and biscuits, some chocolate cake and a bottle of red. I must have looked dumbfounded, as my colleague, who is an ex-doctor as well, just smiled and said, “Well, it is Friday, after all.”
12 thoughts on “10 things that medics in non-clinical jobs find weird”
Having worked in another job and several other workplaces first, this is a lot of the stuff that caught me off guard and frustrated me about being a doctor. A lot of the time I just feel like I’m being treated with complete contempt at work.
The other thing that surprised me about the nhs when I started, and I never quite got used to, is how rude and aggressive staff are to each other as a matter of course. It’s not normal to have colleagues talk down to each other, openly criticise each other, bluntly issue demands, interrupt, talk over and ignore each other.
There is far too much disrespect in the medical profession. Being a doctor means very little, and too often you are made to feel like a fool. If you don’t know something, most of the time you are told to read a book. Its ridiculous.
This is so true! It feels like a form of communal insanity but I find this attitude mostly in the hospital. As an ex med reg I find General Practice is far more civilised and sane in this regard. Even though it is a crazy clusterf*#” of speed consultations, rapid decisions, mountains of paperwork with a vast variety of pathology mixed with uncertainty and risk!
I hope to be able to keep sane for a decade or two before turning my hand to some non clinical work as there is no way we can sustain this to retirement!
Great article, once again!
I’ve only recently come across your blog and have huge respect for you for leaving medicine. I’m a fourth year medical student currently on a leave of absence. I left just before christmas because I didn’t know if I wanted to be a doctor anymore given the state of current affairs. I intend to return to finish my degree because I don’t want to leave it unfinished, but the more I read and hear about the working life of a doctor, the less inclined I am to stay in clinical medicine once I’m done. I’m currently working as a medical writer for a small company and the things you mention in this post are all so true! I started a blog myself recently to write about my life now I’m out of medical school, in the hope that it would help me decide on where I want to go in the future (https://theconfusedmedic.wordpress.com/). If you had any advice or tips about medicine I’d be most grateful for it. Good luck with the job!
You think you could get me an interview at your place? 😂 It sounds blissful to me!
Well written Peach and congrats on the new job!
Great piece. A lot of us will be able to relate to the points you make. Your ‘2 wheely chair bed ‘ anecdote made me smile; I’d been doing it for years until I started in anaesthetics where we still enjoy relative luxury(!) of on call rooms! I’m pleased you’re settling in well to your new job and feel more valued and respected as a colleague 🙂
A lovely piece. Congratulations to you for having the courage to leave. In my case, bidding farewell to N.H.S. (an utterly unrewarding, non-meritocratic, bureaucracy-rich, and, frequently, illogical system) was, undoubtedly, my best career move. There is no doubt that corporate environments are better for one’s mental health and lifestyle, but the thing that many doctors in Britain’s public health system forget, is that the nonsense they endure is quite unique to Britain; elsewhere in the world, the grass is, actually, greener – much greener. Of course, the private system further pushes things up a notch, also.
I must add one thing, though, mainly for the sake of those reading my comments: it is indisputable that N.H.S., certainly up to now, is fantastic for patients, however its functioning depends on the absolute goodwill of its frontline staff (i.e. the doctors and nurses) – without which the system would have collapsed decades, ago.
I’m in anaesthetics and I did the wheely chair thing only 2 weekly ago.
Completely love the fact your written this, had a laugh saying ” I do that too” at every point. Enjoy your time away from NHS
This is such an illuminating article and one that inevitably fills me with regret. The NHS is an abusive monopoly employer and it treats the medical profession with contempt.
I hope you have found happier pastures.
Just discovered your brilliant blog. I wish I could write as well as you to document my leaving medicine. Ten years on and I’m still looking for an alternative path. I have been having thoughts of returning to a clinical career. Reading this article instantly reminded me why I left and that I definitely made the right decision. Thanks! Looking forward to reading the rest of your articles.