A letter of thanks: the bright side of medicine
BY DR BERNADETTE WILKS, DEPUTY CO-CHAIR AMA COUNCIL OF DOCTORS-IN-TRAINING
Much has been written about negative experiences of doctors in training (DiT). This reflects a harsh and true reality. But there are still many doctors whose treatment of DiTs is inspiring and ought to be celebrated as evidence that all is not bullying and harassment in medicine.
These are my stories, many of which are small and seem too insignificant to write. But I still feel a wave of gratitude towards these colleagues. Stories that illustrate how very simple support structures and actions by others can work as safe guards against bullying and harassment and improve well-being. I hope these stories empower other doctors in their ability to make dramatic changes in the lives of their colleagues with just small acts and not to be discouraged by the frequently and well publicised stories about the dark side of medicine.
During a general medical rotation I worked to my full capacity but it was to no avail. I was still belittled by my registrar; scolded not taught. I was on the verge of tears most days and my heart raced in my chest, unable to eat. Medical registrars from other teams asked if I was okay, having noticed a change in my demeanour. These questions of concern were crucial as they validated how I was feeling.
Day three of the rotation and I was at a loss as to how I would survive another three months. It was then that I remembered my hospital had a Royal Australasian College of Medical Administrators (RACMA) Consultant in charge of intern welfare, Rob*, along with two medical workforce personal tasked with the same duty. Rob had provided us with his mobile number during orientation. I did not have the courage to call so I texted Rob instead. Within an hour Rob had actioned a plan that saw me moved to another medical team, who were informed about my vulnerable state. The medical work force unit called me throughout the remainder of the term to ensure I was okay and my new registrar spent the next three months rebuilding my confidence.
During an anaesthetic rotation, I was rostered to a list that was cancelled. Instead of my consultant going back to his office to complete his mountain of non-clinical work, he spent the remaining three hours going through the basics of anaesthetics, setting up anaesthetic drills with mock patients and had me problem solve anaesthetic machine faults. I was made to feel like I was of value, even if not in training, and he applauded my progress in the coming weeks after I continued to practise his lessons.
My smooth transition onto a training program was the result of supportive colleagues, without whom I may have taken many years to gain College entry. This support started at the medical workforce level, where the staff did their best to allocate HMO2 rotations to meet my career aspirations. This was followed by anaesthetic consultants and registrars who read (and re-read and re-read) cover letters and resumes, facilitated access to courses, championed research opportunities and dedicated hours to interview practice.
Vocational Training Humanisation
My non-science background has proven a challenge to my educators as my method of learning and reasoning are not standard. But during training, belittlement turned into nurturing and a recognition of different versus wrong ways of learning and reasoning. This requires extra effort and time as my consultants navigated how my brain works to best form their explanations. There are increasing numbers of graduate-entry doctors with diverse backgrounds and the challenge for the system is to work with and not against these differences.
Life does not stop because you have an exam, job application or Masters essay. And our humanity is not immune to the impact of failures. The acknowledgment of this human reality is crucial to balance work and life. Each time a consultant anticipated the impact of life events, humbly shared their stories of struggles, sent a text message to check in, took time out to have a chat over coffee, altered a roster to ease work pressures, stayed back hours unpaid to help me pass exams, offered me time off, or showed an interest in me outside medicine; untenable situations become moments of gratitude.