the first year

a year ago, i started my career in medicine. you can say it began 5 years prior to that, or maybe even that time when i ticked “medicine” on my scholarship application, but i choose the time i stepped into the state health department and reported in as a houseman.

being a doctor is very different from studying medicine.

as a student, i had the luxury of hearing out a patient’s complaints, holding their hand, or running from a difficult relative. as a doctor, i am responsible for a patient’s experience in a hospital and achieving his or her desired outcome.

it’s not easy ensuring that a patient gets to go home at the end of the day. it starts in the morning during the first review. the investigations taken the day before must be interpreted and translated into treatment plans to be discussed with the medical officer and specialist. the patient’s current condition must be taken into consideration, with additional examinations and tests to be done based on how they’re feeling today.

surgeries are scheduled with care, all precautions taken so the patient is in optimum condition for the procedure in question, medications served, necessary instruments ready. clear, concise instructions must be given to support staff to ensure everything is in order so that theatre time is well-utilised.

i arrive at the operating theatre before my medical officer, to dilute antibiotics and label them clearly, to put the patient’s details up on the board, to be scrubbed in and ready to assist the surgeon. after the surgery, i should ideally be there to review the patient post-op, to tell them the findings and what to expect. i assure them that the surgeon will tell them more later, that there will be a plan as to how we will proceed from there.

everything done in the morning must be followed up in the afternoon. every investigation result is traced and analysed. important information about patients is passed over to the team on-call doing the night shift. trival tasks are settled before going home.

there is so much hoo-ha about housemen, the overcrowding of hospitals, our working hours, the “flexi-shifts”. i, too, have an opinion on every aspect of my life as a doctor.

but when i think about the things that have been mentioned whether verbally or in print…it still boils down to the fact that being a doctor is very different from studying medicine. it’s something many housemen fail to come to grips with and it’s the reason for the criticism we get today.

the last year has helped me understand why my lecturers always stressed more on patient care, work ethic and pride in the profession than on gaining book knowledge or practical skills. they expected us to be in the wards early, to be well-dressed, to take ownership of the patients whose surgeries we observed (“don’t enter the OT unless you see the patient post-op!”).

their aim was to rid us of the “medical student” mentality as soon as possible. while i sulked about it as an undergraduate, i am immensely grateful for it today.

the first year of the rest of my life has gone by so quickly. i am bruised and battered but i am better for it. it’s exciting to know i am still moving on.



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