Today is the laziest day I have had in just over 2 weeks. 12 days of acute medicine. 3 days off spend in 5 different cities. 3 nights shifts and the first real day of rest today.
I was just scrolling through my Instagram feed and saw a picture from a fabulous doctor I follow about a conversation she had with one her friends about burn out and almost leaving medicine.
It inspired me to write this blog post.
We all go through so much in medicine and we speak about some of it, but so much happens in one day it’s impossible to talk through it all. We don’t need to everyday but when you work hard for a long period of time things build up. I truly believe we all need to wind down. Good food, family, friends. There lovely things in life are an essential part of being a half decent doctor, or whatever else makes you happy.
Happy Salma is a much better doctor than overworked tired Salma, I’m very aware of this. But we have all experiences that feeling of burnout. I recently thought I worked so hard so having a brilliant social life for 3 days was necessary. And it was to an extent but I also needed some rest. After my past few days my mind and body NEED a break which I am very conscious of and taking now. Otherwise burnout is too easy. It’s early days with this doctor jig for me and I’m learning the the importance of these things as I muddle through.
Have a read below for some of the stories from doctors about burnout for them and the other side. Have a great day. Salma xxx
One of the best parts of this blog is when I get to shine a light on some of those women I see doing well in life, so we can all learn a thing or two about how it’s really done and celebrate them. Credit where it’s due I say!
This posts features a female surgeon who kindly too the time to answer some of my questions about surgery, being a woman in surgery and dealing with difficulties. I hope you enjoy the read!
Aawaz: We hear a lot about barrier for women in medicine and surgery is no exception. In your experience how real have these barriers been? And how to you tackle them?
During my training I noticed barriers but never realized how they subtly existed against women. Growing up and with life experience I notice these barriers against women more now than ever before.
It’s the subtleties. The barriers are surreptitious, unspoken, on a subconscious level. No one necessarily identifies them unless ‘they’ are the ones they are targeted at. This is why it is so difficult to combat this ‘silent’ problem.
For example, this includes my male consultant not making eye contact with me as a woman during a ward round, not acknowledging my presence but acknowledging my male colleagues, talking with my male colleagues when it should be to both of us. Encouraging my male colleagues to aim high but not me. This subtle barrier is very different to the obvious prejudice against women for taking maternity leave, the expiry date of a woman career post childbirth, this ‘subtle’ day to day prejudice that I notice daily is far more damaging to any womans career progression.
The only good thing that has come from such prejudices and barriers against women is it has made women like me work even harder and more fiercely to create change for the future.
Aawaz: I feel quite strongly that women should support one another, how do you feel about this?
One of the biggest problems of barriers against women is other women.
Women don’t want to see other women succeed and that bothers me; a lot.
I understand why Men don’t want to see women succeed – because they feel demasculinized, since the beginning of time and evolution, from they day they are born they are gender-typed into being ‘the provider’ and when in the presence of a ‘strong’ woman they ‘react’ they feel they don’t have a purpose, a purpose that was traditionally valued.
Women however, I still don’t understand. I have pondered over this time and time again. Women feel threatened by other women. ‘We’ don’t like to see other women succeed.
Especially women who have achieved their aspirations and were criticized by men along the way they often feel bitter and cynical and end up projecting what was done to them onto their female successors.
We can be our worst enemies. several times I have had female mentors who have advised me to ‘think seriously before you enter this career choice’, ‘its too tough for women’, ‘if you want children you shouldn’t do surgery’, ‘its too hard, are you sure your up to it?’ We should be nurturing and encouraging each other not waiting for each other to fail.
If we amongst ourselves as women are not clear on how we should be treated and valued.. then how can we expect the rest of society to treat us better?
Aawaz: How you do you feel about sharing your career aspirations? Do you think it’s something that people should keep to themselves or not?
During medical school peers were very ‘cloak and dagger’’ about their career aspirations – as though if they divulged their aspirations their colleagues would steal their ideals and surpass them in the ‘competition of life’. Playground behavior never interested me.
What you achieve has nothing to do with others around you. I am open about my career aspirations especially if it inspires those around me to achieve.
Aawaz: What are some of the good things that you have done in your career that you wish you had done earlier?
Talk to men. For a long time I had strong feministic views which all birthed from the way men treated me negatively.
However when I started to talk to men more and acknowledge their presence I was able to show them how women contribute positively to society and their mindsets began to change. I just wish id started earlier I would have converted many more men by now!
Aawaz: Who inspires you?
My family. My mother is the epitome of patience, endless giving and resilience. My father is the epitome of resilience and hard work. My grandmother is the matriarch who is placed at the top of the current family tree to generations of individuals – she is a current and clear living example of a strong female leader. Miss Walls A senior breast consultant, one of the strongest women I know in all aspects of her life, through the good and the bad. She knows what she has done for me.
Aawaz: What is the most important quality in a good surgeon.
Aawaz: I am very early on in my medical career and not sure what I want to do. Should I be worried?!
No, no and no. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Don’t make a decision until the end of your F1 year – at least. By then you’ve had an experience of what life as a doctor is really like.
Aawaz: Can you “have it all”?
If you want something you’ll make it happen
I’m living proof of this and so are thousands of other women.
Aawaz: Finally and most importantly, If you weren’t a surgeon what would you be doing?
Easy. Fashion Designer.
Massive thank you to Shazia Hafiz, inspirational female surgeon, for taking the time to write this.
In the mountain of the all the things you have to do as a busy F1, there are still beautiful moments. I am writing about them because if you’re an F1 at the moment, you will know about the other stuff. What can feel like a sometimes daily struggle.
Slowly you are becoming more tired each day.
In all of this it’s hard to apprecate the good. It is an effort because you are so busy doing everything else.
A few days ago was one of the busiest days for me as an F1 so far. I know I have very little to compare it to, but my third night shift was something of a beast. For everyone involved. So much so that all of the nurses were still talking about it the next day. The busiest night in a long time they tell me.
I was stressed, tired, hungry, emotional and terrified. I was being bleeped all the time, several times whilst seeing a sick patient and was running between wards trying to find what I needed and running between ABG machines on different levels because they don’t all do the tests I needed, praying the blood wouldn’t clot.
When my SHO saw me and asked me if i wanted a cup of tea, I laughed because the idea that I had even 1 minutes seemed ludicrous.
I get it. I know the struggle. I’m living it, but I thought I would shine some light of some of the beauty to come out of one of the worst shifts of my life. Because it is everywhere, and these are the moments that will see me through one day to the next.
“You’re a nice doctor”
I was flattered, but baffeled. We had barely spent five minutes together. I had been bleeped for a cannula for a patient who was notoriously difficult to cannulate. I had that heart sink moment when they told me that even the anaesthetist struggled the day before and was considering feet or neck.
I was intrigued enough to ask why they thought that I was nice. What had she gathered in just under 5 minutes!
“You put a pillow under my arm to make me comfortable.”
It was something so tiny and automatic for me that it barely regstered, but to this patient it made a big difference. After repeated cannulation attempts, this counted a lot to them.
At 6am one patient was so happy to tell me that I didn’t hurt them when I was talking bloods. They were so jolly and chatting away about their family. They had cancer and were in hospital having surgery and having lots of blood test yet they were still so jolly.
What an positive person I though and what the hell did I have to complain about. At the moment, nothing at all.
The nurse who cornered me, shoved some tea and toast in my hand and ordered me to sit down immediately and eat. After 8 hours of no fluid or nutrition or sitting down, this act of kindness was much appreciated.
I went back and gave her a hug the next day.
The nurse who called the path lab for me to get them to report blood results immediately when I needed to do 50 other things and she saw that it needed to be done. One less job for me to do. The benefit of this when you are busy is huge.
The patient who I had to wake up from their sleep who asked me how I was! “You must be tired doc”.
I was but I wasn’t expecting this act of kindness.
The nurst who went to her bag to get chocolate and the other nurse who shared her grapes with me and then encouraged me to eat and write at the same time. I managed half a chocolate bar.
The nurse who gave me a lecture on drinking and going to the toilet (both of which were NOT happening). Just the motherly advice I needed for the next shift, where nutrition and hydration were both taken more seriously.
Even on the worse days, there is still a lot to be grateful for. We all know about the struggle and talk about it (and rightly so, we all need a debrief) but don’t forget to stop, even if just for a second, to appreciate the good too. Because there is a lot of that, it’s just a little more concealed.
And if it’s all going terribly, remember there is always time off!
Here is what I got up to on mine this weekend at the Edinburgh fringe festival.
“Listen to the raisin. Put it to your ear. Try and hear the sounds. Put it between your fingers now. Let it role around. What is the texture like? Now smell it. Inhale deeply. How is this making you feel?”
This was my first lesson in Mindfulness.
I was a clueless first year medical student who was still getting lost around campus and defrosting her parents food and this was my first lecture of “Whole Person Care”, where I was going to learn all about caring for whole patient, not just their medical condition.
What I didn’t know was that I would also be learning about how to care for myself.
Our first task for this lecture. Examining a raisin. We were sceptical, surprised and too polite and scared not to oblige. We went along with it. Feeling silly at the start why were we listing to a raisin of all things? Then after a while we were engrossed.
By a raisin.
We gave into the moment. At one point, all we were thinking about was that raisin.
Someone wiser would say that we were practicing mindfulness. We were focused on the present.
Our teacher knew what would face us when we were doctors. We didn’t. They were trying to prepare us for that day in the not so distant future when we would be pulled in a hundred different directions and we would have to learn to quieten that voice in our head that was exploding with all we had to do. And instead focus on the scared 80 year old in front of us struggling to breath. To be mindful of the present and resilient to the inevitable stresses that would be placed upon us.
As we shuffled in each week we would learn about how to care for all of the patient including their complex emotional needs.
But more pertinent to me, I would learn the most important lesson of all my time in medical school. How to care for myself.
“You are like an elastic band. You can only stretch so far until you need to recoil” we were told.
At every stage of my time at medical school, neglecting the truth of the statement above would harm me.
When I would be to busy to eat on time, to go for a run, to see my friends, to see my family.
At the end of third year. I was burnt out and unhappy. I was an academic success but I wasn’t happy. There was no resilience. I had stretched my band to far.
Time to recoil. I intercalated, went to Kenya alone and started writing a blog. I started doing more of the thing I loved again and discovered new passions.
If you aren’t able to help yourself, it can be very difficult trying to help someone else.
I went back to clinical medicine a happier person.
When I was working harder around exam time, I allowed myself to recoil just as much. I ran everyday, not just when I was stressed. I wrote a lot. A danced around my flat. I wore lipstick when I was revising and if times were particularly tough, a great pair of heels too. I had learnt to be resilient by learning, the hard way, how to look after myself.
This weekend I am building up my resilience ahead of my first set of nights as a doctors. I have been spending time with my family and my sister has been helping me attempt to eat my body weight is dessert. We did well today. Roll on the family BBQ tomorrow where we shall attempt round two 😉
As most of my colleagues geared up for the infamous black Wednesday, according to my rota that was my day off.
Cue anticlimax and a few pangs of jealousy seeing the various social media messages about the first day at work.
It would be black Thursday for me then. Not quite the same ring, but equally as terrifying.
My day began freakishly quietly. I should have suspected something earlier.
The ward where I went for all of my shadowing was void of all doctors. They can’t all be late I thought. They weren’t — they were all in a different place. Cue mad dash, six flights of stairs later, and I finally made it to the right place.
Looking less composed that I had hoped to appear (outwardly at least) on my first day, no one seemed to notice me (thank goodness).
Back to the base ward to start any jobs, and get ready for the ward round. I had barely put my bag down when I was asked to prescribe an antiemetic for a patient.
Hardly the most dangerous drug, but you wouldn’t have guessed it by my compulsive checking of the British National Formulary.
The morning wasn’t so bad, until I offered to help someone out and spent around an hour trying to sort through a massive drugs list including those for Parkinson’s disease, which needed to be given at the correct time.
At one point, I felt like crying. A million drugs to write up, unknown doses, a confused patient and hypoglycaemia (that was just me, way past lunch time).
So, I started laughing and my new best friend, ‘Mr Ward Pharmacist’ joined me. Crying is time consuming and I couldn’t be bothered. Laughing made my first challenge easier.
Finally, I managed to get some lunch and chat with one of my friends, another F1, who was also flagging and had forgotten to drink water and so needed paracetamol for a headache.
Our patients were our priority and our own fluid balance and analgesia needs were definitely falling by the way side. If we were patients, our doctors would certainly be guilty of neglecting us.
Recharged somewhat, I went back to the ward. I was feeling quite happy at this point. Not too many jobs to do, just chasing a few bloods. But the problem is the abnormal bloods, which, as a doctor, are my responsibility to act on.
A low magnesium and several queries about setting up a magnesium infusion kept me more than entertained for the remained of the afternoon. As did the gazillion discharge summaries.
I finished at 6pm – two hours later than rostered — and would have been there longer if I didn’t say ‘I’m sorry you need to bleep someone else about that’. Ward work never ends. But my efficiency levels had by this point.
I can already see this F1 gig is going to be tiring and the monotony of ward jobs isn’t what most of us entered medicine for.
But there are definitely ways to make it enjoyable. I fully intend to celebrate every win — every successful cannula or blood take — because I know that there will be setbacks which tend to stick in the mind.
And remember to talk to patients (and say #hellomynameis) who will keep me going. There is always time to appreciate a patient’s fabulous dressing gown or slippers.
I have just completed the daunting rite of passage of foundation year one. Starting out, I found there to be lots of resources for the practical challenges you may encounter during FY1, but guidance on how to simply be a good FY1 and what to realistically expect, best came from the wisdom of doctors that came before me. I hope I can do the same for you in some way.
Medical school cannot really entirely or directly prepare you for the challenges, trials and triumphs that come with the reality of foundation year one. However, you can make it through to the end. You have been beaten, broken, crushed, and battered by the gruelling experience of medical school, and as a result you are resilient, driven, competitive, fast-learning and adaptable.
To put it simply, there exists no other person more qualified or more suitably refined for this job than you are.
Getting off to a good start is really important, and I didn’t really appreciate this until much later on in the year. What I mean by this specifically, is making sure you’ve got all your mandatory and statutory training done and training for any software programmes completed as early as possible. This will set you up nicely for the year and will just mean that you won’t have that dreaded dark cloud of admin hanging over your head the entire time. I actively avoided all kinds of training, but it all eventually caught up with me and ultimately I ended up having to park myself in the library for hours to get it done before the deadline. Please try not to do this. Sadly, mandatory training is actually mandatory. Getting all the training malarkey done early or doing as you go along will make for a more stress-free and more enjoyable FY1 life.
The saga continues! Make achievable targets in each rotation so that you do not have to catch up the whole time (which was the story of my life). Also try to do a reflective piece of writing at least once a week – there’s nothing worse than trying to reflect on something that happened six months ago. If you’re an aspiring GP you will have to become very fond of this, so start now! Try and maintain a good relationship with your educational supervisor. They will undertake regular reviews with you to ensure your e-portfolio progresses throughout the year. Any concerns with or if there are issues with your supervisor (whether educational or clinical supervisor), please do try and address them. However if these issues cannot be resolved, it may be possible to change supervisors, so don’t be afraid to take action if you have concerns.
The e-portfolio has quite a few components, which you will soon become very familiar with so I will spare you the details for now. However, I will just say that I regret not being more forward and assertive with asking for senior doctors to sign me off for certain things. I ended up doing so many practical procedures that were unaccounted for because I felt like a nuisance always asking doctors to sign me off. Please don’t have this same attitude. People are busy and sometimes senior doctors may seem unapproachable, however they have an obligation to teach and to ensure that you are progressing adequately through your first foundation year. So be politely but unapologetically assertive.
I was pretty terrifyied. But all the nursing staff and senior doctors know that this is all new to you, so everyone’s threshold for helping you out tends to be pretty low. Hospital guidelines are a magical fountain of knowledge, and I rely on them heavily until this day. Secondly, make sure you know where the BNF is kept, or have a pocket prescriber handy. Don’t rely on asking people the doses of things as people, despite their year of experience, can make mistakes. Ultimately if your signature is next to the medication prescribed, then this mistake is unfortunately yours. I was once asked by a consultant on a fast-paced ward round to prescribe penicillin. He literally handed me the open drug chart, and of course I prescribed it. In my hast, I failed to realise this patient’s penicillin allergy. Luckily there was no harm done and this mistake was picked up before the medication was given. However, I was entirely to blame for this incident. My point is, try always to be vigilant, check things, ask questions and challenge things if you have any doubts. Rely only on objective sources for medication doses. My nose is forever and shamelessly inside the BNF, and if you feel you need it, yours should be too. Furthermore, for your on-calls, make sure you have all you essential medical devices and utensils i.e. stethoscope, pen torch, multiple pens, clinical notepaper, list of patients. It’s common to be bleeped a fair bit during medical on-calls, but just remember that everything does not need to be seen immediately, and sometimes things do not need your ward presence at all.
Prioritise – this will come with time, as will your judgement on the severity and importance of bleeps. Remember also that sometimes it is not possible to complete everything on your to-do list by the end if your shift. Try your best but it is important that you do not compromise the quality of your patient care because you’re rushing. If you don’t finish, don’t worry and don’t be disheartened. This is what the gift of handover is for.
It is really important, especially on on-call shifts, to know when you are out of your depth and to know when and how to seek senior- or the relevant support. The source of help that you decide to seek is really quite case dependent. However, generally for medical problems on-call, your first port of call should be your senior house officer. If they then feel it’s appropriate to escalate, they will suggest calling the registrar. Whomever you do speak to when seeking help, make sure you know the following: name, date of birth and relevant medical background of the patient; their presentation to hospital and their current issue; your examination findings and recent observations; any results of relevant and recent investigations (Chest x-ray, bloods, ultrasounds, ECG); any treatments or methods of management implemented so far and the patient’s response to them. This seems like a lot to remember, but actually it’s essentially just the brief presentation of a clerking. It’s always a good idea to have the patient’s notes, observations chart and drug chart on the table in front of you, and also the investigations and imaging programme open on a computer. Make sure you also state clearly why it is that you need advice it or feel it is appropriate for the patient to be reviewed by a senior, and be ready to give a differential diagnosis (“I think this patient may be in pulmonary oedema” or “I think this may be unstable angina”). After all of this, it may be that the person on the receiving end of your message thinks that you have inappropriately called them, and as a result you may end up feeling a little silly for your so called trivial predicaments. Just remember that no one will ever penalise you for calling for help, whereas if you refrained from calling for help is a potentially disastrous situation, you could land yourself in a bit of trouble.
Help with academic support and career advice, can be sought after in your clinical and educational supervisors, and help with emotional/ personal support can be sought after in colleagues and also in whomever is appointed as the pastoral figure.
Locum shifts are pretty much available in all trusts and are great for those who don’t mind giving up a bit of free time to earn a little extra cash on the side. If this interests you then you should email your administrator soon after starting to enquire about how locum shifts are advertised and distributed. Usually the rule is first come, first served, however I have heard of occasions when one specific junior doctor gets personally notified before others about locum shifts – which is obviously outrageous, so ensure that this does not happen! For some doctors, locums may be an absolutely “no-no”, and free time may be valued more highly than monetary rewards. But for others, it can be really worth it, especially if you suffer from shopaholicism or have picked up the travel bug (both afflict me). The rate of locums are probably variable across different deaneries and perhaps even trusts, but generally for FY1s the rate is £25 per hour. This means that you could earn about a third of what you earn in a month, in just one weekend (12 hour shifts). That’s a pretty sweet deal if you ask me.
I’m not so much an academic myself, however there are things that you will need to complete as an FY1 regardless of you career direction. As a requirement of the e-portfolio, you need to complete an audit of some sort. It can be on anything, however if you have an inclination towards a specialty at this stage, then I would definitely base the audit on something relevant to that specialty. There are lot of opportunities that will arise throughout the year for courses, seminars, events, workshops, poster competitions, publications and all the rest of it. If you are keen, then look out for such emails! If you are looking to go into specialty training you will also need to start thinking about putting together a portfolio of all of you academic achievements. You should have a careers event during the year, which should further inform you about this.
Being a junior doctor, the expectations for seniors can sometimes seem ridiculous; the sense of responsibility can be overwhelming; and on several occasions you will suffer the misfortune of missing an important family function, of your best friend’s birthday. This is why you deserve a good old break. It’s really important to try and maintain a healthy life-work balance. I would really encourage trying to continue any extra-curricular activity that you did prior to starting FY1, or even trying something new. I would encourage you to be sociable. Its always really nice to vent to your fellow F1s – no one understands the perils and pain better than a fellow FY1. Lastly take annual leave, and enjoy it! Taking annual leave is different at every trust – sometimes it’s assigned to you in the rota, other times it’s first come first served. Don’t worry too much if it is assigned, it is possible to swap if you ask early.
Always just remember to work hard but play harder – it’s the key to survival!!!
There is this great scene in Sex and the City the movie, where the main character, Carrie Bradshaw is walking down 75th and fabulous when she sees a group of 4 girls who turn around to look at her outfit.
Carrie smiles back. A little acknowledgement as if to say “Yes I am fabulous. And yes I was once you too”. I had a similar moment at the end of medical school.
I mean I wasn’t wear this seasons Dolce with Manolo’s (unfortunately), more like comfy shoes from Clarks and clothes from Zara, but I was on the ward when a gang of medical student approached me and the SHO I was attached too. They were having bedside teaching with one of my fave consultants Dr J. I was attached to his firm on my first ever medical placement and as fate would have it I would be on the same ward as a final year.
He spent all of third year calling me Faiza, because I sat in a chair that Faiza sat in once. I corrected him a few times, but after a while I would respond to Faiza. When he saw me as a final year, he squinted a little, and told me proudly that I was the spitting image of a girl he once knew called…wait for it…Faiza. Needless to say, I was also Faiza in 5th year and it is such a lovely name, I didn’t mind. Not like he was trying to call me Sally or anything (and if you didn’t get that have a look at my previous blog posts).
A patient had pulled their cannula out and needed another one put in and had displayed violence towards members of staff before so the SHO wanted me to go with them. As we struggled away, I would hear the medical students next door. There was the one who knew it all. The one who kept getting picked on. The quiet one. The onc who sounded like they wanted to cry. Was this once me?!
Cannula successfully put in (only to be pulled out again 10 minutes later….) I was writing in the notes by the desk when all the medical students came out. I watched them leave the ward and some of them looked back at me sheepishly as I smiled back.
God they looked tiny I thought. Did I ever look like that.
Dr J came to talk to me. “Remind you of anyone?” I smiled. Of course it did. That was me not that long ago. “How time flies” I told him. “You will be the doctor soon enough” he said. And he was right. I would be. Writing this, I am a doctor. It’s petrifying but also such a buzz just thinking about it.
Someone once said, you go to medical school, something happens and you’re a doc. Well by name anyway. The real proof will come when we are working.
But the thing is IT WILL COME.
I don’t know when the skill of being able to eyeball someone and within 2 seconds make a judgement on how sick they were came from. Or when I trusted my hunch enough to tell a very senior doctor on their first break in hours “you need to come and see this patient right now”. But these skills come with time and hard work. And we are use to that.
On those crappy days (there will be rubbish days, might as well face it) reminders like this need to be drawn on.
So before we all rush into our new jobs, let’s just take a minute to appreciate the journey we have made so far. I think we’re doing pretty well, if you ask me.