Checklist: stethoscope, badge, pen torch, kindness.

“Please. Stop. You’re intimidating me and I can’t think.”
“Oh. Really? Am I?”
There was no sarcasm. This was a genuine question. She had no idea.
“Yes you are”. I mustered. “You’re a consultant and I’m just a medical student. You need to give me a second to think”.
It was about 3pm in the afternoon and I had cracked.
Let me give you a bit of background.
I was doing anaesthetics and this particular Monday morning I was up at 6.30am to drive to placement in time for the 8.30am start.
There was an admin issue and so I ended getting to the anaesthetic room a few minutes late and missed the first intubation. But to the anaesthetist, I was late. And that wasn’t acceptable.
The surgery was long and I had missed all the airway management so I watched the surgery instead. An hour in I mustered up the courage to ask for a patient to see pre-op, intra operatively and post op for a presentation had the next day.
“Oh, you can do my pre-op assessment clinic for me”.
I panicked but the anaesthetist was brilliant and explained everything that I had to ask really well. But I was still terrified. And because I terrified. I was slow. Obviously things were checked again but I wanted to make sure that I personally didn’t miss anything.
What I did end up missing was my lunch but such is the way some times.
After doing the clinic it was time for the afternoon list. I presented each patient in turn and did everything. Every drug, every cannula, every fluid bag. At the same time I was being grilled with question.
Having missed lunch, being petrified of this doctor and not knowing the answer to all of her questions I cracked. By this point I was doing well not to have fainted. So I said it how it was.
“Please. Stop. You’re intimidating me and I can’t think.”
This might sounds like the last thing on earth a medical student should ever say to a consultant. But it was the truth. It could no longer hear her questions. They were too quick for my glucose deprived brain and I had burnt out.
I told her that I hadn’t had anything to eat and she had no idea how long the clinic took me. I was sent away to have something to eat, (a rather sad looking sandwich) and when I came back there was a much warmer reception.
At the end of the day she told me “well Salma, you might not like me but at least you learnt a lot” and I agreed. You don’t need your teacher to be your best friend but you don’t need a bully either.
I think it’s difficult for some people to remember how their position can impact another. If you are a 4th year medical student you will be intimidating to a first year. Empathy is key here.
One of my favourite doctors, a consultant ENT surgeon confessed to me, “Salma, I still feel like a 10 year old boy and yet these people look up to me”.
There are 2 lessons here. 1- Stick up for yourself.  2- As your progress as a medical student and then doctor, empathy is key. Try not to lose sight of what you were like on your first day of a new placement. No one starts off as a rock star. So be kind.  

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