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Article 15 things I wish I knew as a junior doctor


Well-known member

The following is primarily a collection of small pointers I've collected over the last decade or so. Many from my own experience and many borrowed from those much wiser than I.

1. Med school was a series of necessary hoops to jump through. Sure it taught you a bit of jargon, maybe some anatomy if you were lucky. Past performance is not an indicator of future success.

2. Don’t moan about being a paper-monkey. Use that time to learn how the hospital works, learn how the system works. This will make your working life much more tolerable when you need to navigate the complexities and confines of this system.

3. Ask, ask and ask. Forget worrying about looking like an idiot, you’ll learn a hell of a lot more this way. And here’s the best part - in the early days most people will assume you know nothing anyway! Ask even the most basic questions. Your future self will thank you.

4. Communication is king. I cannot stress this enough. This is communication in every way, shape and form. Writing, typing, scripts, discharge summaries, med certs, referrals, verbal instructions to patients.

...You will see many examples of truly awful communication that will result in massive time wasting and/or dangerous outcomes. The worst offenders will likely be those you are trying to learn from…

...Poor communication is not something to be proud of. It is a sign of laziness and/or arrogance, and it can be fucking dangerous - at best you will waste other people’s time - at worst you will harm or kill someone.

5. Over confidence does not equal knowledge/ability - it can often mean the opposite. Be wary of those who speak in absolutes - ‘always, never, impossible’ etc.

6. If someone is worried about a patient, you should be too. In particular if it is ANYONE who has been around a lot longer than you. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cleaner, family member, orderly or an well-meaning passer by who comes to you with a concern - ignore at your peril.

7. Smile, introduce yourself, and for God’s sake listen and be nice to the nursing staff. If you do this repeatedly you will find your life getting easier instead of infinitely more difficult.

8. Your patients and their families are not idiots. Don’t be afraid to admit when you are out of your depth. Avoid falsely reassuring and definitely avoid making things up. This will also build trust.

9. Be aware of mistakes and own them. You WILL make errors and you WILL feel like an idiot when you do. Get over it, you’re human. Being aware of potential errors is paramount to spotting them WHEN they happen.

10. Grab every different (specialty) job with both hands and run with it. Make use of this time to enhance your skills and knowledge base. You have no idea what the future holds or where you may end up.

11. If you are treated poorly, remember that this is often a product of the environment and prior experiences. Hospitals in particular are littered with bad experiences and difficult working environments. It doesn’t excuse the behaviour but helps put it into perspective.

12. Do not get drawn into the inter-specialty tribal bullshit haunting medicine. This is indoctrinated from day 1 and you need to be aware of it. It is tremendously counterproductive and only serves to perpetuate a culture which is long overdue an overhaul.

13. Listen to your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. And I mean this in every sense - from the day-to-day and the long-term. If you find yourself in a job (specialty) you thought you’d love but don’t - rethink it, seek advice and explore your options.

14. The devil is in the details. Trust no bastard. Never make assumptions. If things do not add up - go over old ground yourself. Piece together the story using as much information as possible - this skill will serve you well for the rest of your working life.

15. Lastly - The human body is a remarkably complex biological machine that has evolved over millions of years. For all of the brilliant innovations in modern medicine, we have only just scratched the surface. You will never know everything. Stay humble, keep an open mind.