I’ve now passed the dreaded three month mark in my new job!
People say that the first two to three months in a new job are the hardest, and in many ways, I think this is true. You’re plunged into a new way of working, new expectations and a whole team of new people – and that’s before you even get to the actual work itself.
Looking back, I think one of the reasons I disliked being a doctor was the fact that as a Foundation trainee, you get moved around every four months – every time I found my feet and felt I was getting the hang of it, I had to move on, and it didn’t help that I also had to move site twice. By my last placement in FY2, I had worked in four different hospitals, and for me that was exhausting.
It’s something I feel we don’t recognise in medicine – the fact that starting a new job is inherently stressful. We move around so much that it just doesn’t register anymore. We’re expected to be able to deal with being thrown straight into the deep end time after time after time, to learn how new teams, specialities, wards and hospitals work within days if not sooner, and manage all of this while providing good and thorough patient care. I remember being on call during my first weekend as an FY1 – we were short-staffed and my seniors were being kept extremely busy, so I was essentially dealing with about a hundred patients mostly by myself. To the doctors out there reading this, I bet you barely batted an eyelid at that sentence because it’s such a common experience, but when you actually stop to think about it, it’s completely mad. Most companies wouldn’t put a basic project briefing call into the sole hands of a brand new colleague, let alone put other people’s lives into the soles hands of a brand new grad.
Unless you’ve actually been a doctor, I think it’s hard to wrap your head around the speed at which you have to learn things and how accepting you have to be of responsibility. To be honest, I didn’t even really think about it until I left medicine and had employers be consistently impressed at how quickly I picked things up.
But even if you are a fast learner, I think it’s still important to appreciate that some things take time. Building good rapport and trust with your colleagues and clients, for example, often cannot be rushed. Neither can that feeling within of being ‘settled’. I am only starting to feel that way now in this new job, and it’s nice to feel like you finally have a handle on things. It’s been a bit weird because, due to Covid-19, I’ve barely been in the office and I’ve only physically met a couple of my colleagues. I think there are certain things that are much more difficult to do when everything you do is over video conference call – creative thinking and informal ‘watercooler’ conversations, for example. I know everybody always rolls their eyes at the idea of small talk, but I think a certain amount of it is important for productivity and general wellbeing.
Another facet to it is that it’s been extraordinarily busy since I started at this company. My colleagues all tell me this is highly unusual – we are not normally in a situation where every single person on the team is consistently over-capacity, but for the past few months, we have been. (Again, for the doctors out there, there will be no eyelid-batting at that!) It’s strange that Covid-19 has caused some industries to crumble, and yet for others, like mine, it has caused an excess of work. I’m not complaining – I know which side I prefer to be on, and I count myself very lucky, but it’s been stressful. I think our clients were essentially holding back on making decisions during the first lockdown while there was so much uncertainty, but now that people are more familiar with how the post-Covid world works, we’re playing catch-up to make up for all that lost time. In addition to this, I’m a part time working parent, which brings its own challenges! You end up trying to do a full time job in part time hours if you’re not really careful, so I’m trying hard to be very boundaried with myself about how many extra hours I’m putting in.
I’ve said this before though, and I’ll say it again – even though my career outside medicine is by no means stress-free, it is nowhere near the level of pressure and burnout that I experienced as a doctor. Part of that is about personal growth, but I really think a lot of it is about the culture and the system of your workplace. My work environment now is supportive and respectful, and I work with a team of very nice, very capable people who I like and trust. The leadership is good, and I am provided with all the necessary tools to do my job. Such factors hugely mitigate the stress of the job itself. I noted this even within medicine – my most intense placements, in terms of both hours and emotional strain, were gastro surgery, obs and gynae and paediatrics. But I was fortunate in that I mostly had a good team of seniors and support staff around me in those departments. The working conditions weren’t always great, but looking back, I see the value of good leadership, and how it made everything more bearable, and even, at times, enjoyable.
So am I enjoying this job, in spite of the unusual start? Very much so! I’m really glad I found such a lovely team of people, and pharma marketing is varied and interesting. The key thing for me is that I’m not bored. I was bored as a doctor – bored to tears. I’m not saying it’s a boring job per se (although I doubt anyone finds the admin side interesting! There’s that old joke about how junior doctors are often glorified secretaries…) I know plenty of doctors who are fascinated by their jobs, and that’s great for them, but I think we have to challenge this bizarre notion that medicine is invariably inspiring, regardless of one’s individual strengths and interests.
I think we also need to challenge the notion that it’s not important to find your work interesting. As a doctor, I became resigned to the idea of being perpetually uninspired, not realising the impact it would have on me. I think on some level, I didn’t really believe myself worthy of seeking inspiration. But monotony and boredom, I have since learned, are not merely workplace inconveniences – they are stepping stones on the path to burnout. And in medicine that path is already paved well enough.