by Work the World

I am a third year medical student from a British university writing about my experiences, as I begin my first clinical year. There is nothing which qualifies me to do this and I certainly don’t consider myself and my experiences as being of any interest whatsoever to anyone other than me, and perhaps my mother.

Actually scratch that – she doesn’t give two hoots either. It just so happened that I was in the right place at the right time and, when I was asked if I’d like to put something together for the Work the World blog, spied an opportunity to say what I really think – in a way that no amount of medical school-approved “reflective writing” could ever achieve.

I obviously have to retain anonymity for the sake of whatever half-arsed medical career I am eventually going to have, but I am on safe ground with non-identifying characteristics, so I think it is important for me to warn you that I tend to whinge about things. A lot. I often claim that this serves as an outlet for my frustrations, allowing me to retain a sunny, positive outlook on life, but this is in fact a bare-faced lie; I am a pessimistic moaning defeatist, who complains about everyone and everything that enters his sphere, no doubt in order to make up for his own insecurities. I will try to put the best possible spin on events that these characteristics allow me, but I very much suspect this blog will tend towards the odd miserable rant from time to time.

I have just finished my first week working on a hospital ward. I saying “working” but this is actually more of a term I use in an attempt to impress the people in my life who do not really appreciate exactly what the role of a third year medical student entails. If I was being more accurate I would say that I had just finished my first week “standing around looking scared, awkward and confused” on a hospital ward.

This is pretty much exactly as I had expected, and it is essentially nobody’s fault – I mean I could blame the consultant surgeon who didn’t turn up to meet us at half 8 in the morning, but why would he turn up when he was needed in theatre? I could also blame the Registrar who works under him but why would she turn up when she was away on holiday? I could even blame the FY1, on whom the burden for looking after us would traditionally fall, but she seems to have enough trouble juggling patient files, notebooks, mobile phones and bleepers to pay any attention to the seven smartly-dressed, nervous-looking students standing in the corridor, being sworn at every several seconds by one of the large, severe-looking, busty nurses who were trying to get past them.

Yes this is almost exactly what I expected the first week to be like, but that doesn’t stop me being annoyed about it. But because I have nobody to actually blame I am forced into a kind of internalised, impotent rage – similar to the type I experience when my bank or mobile phone company do something which irks me. I know that I am a third year medical student, and therefore the lowest of the low in the hospital pecking order, but – as my Guardian-reading friends keep complaining to me on the rare occasions these days when I actually get to see them – the NHS pay £50,000 per year to train us, so that surely means our little septet could afford to employ someone to say hello to us and show us where the toilets are, or maybe even to introduce us to the people we need to know and tell us what we have to do.

On Wednesday morning somebody actually took responsibility for us, although this was something of a Pyrrhic victory, accompanied as it was by the news that this was her last day working in the hospital before she was rotated to another site. We were even given access to a Google calendar, so that we could see all the things that were going on in the department, and plan out what we wanted to attend. This would have been a fantastic thing were it not for the fact that it seemed like not one of the doctors or nurses we should have been working with had access to the same calendar; we would repeatedly turn up to locations only to find that we were the only ones there. Whenever we tried to dig a little deeper as to the reasons behind this, we gained an increased appreciation of just how unusual this particular week was, because “normally” the meeting/clinic/ward round would be on, only this week everyone was involved with an audit, or in theatre, or attending a conference in the Maldives.

On Thursday morning we were timetabled to be in theatre watching a surgery! Little matter that we’d found out beforehand that we were going to be watching laser surgery on a varicose vein (which I had been warned was the surgical equivalent of watching somebody dull watching paint dry) we were going to see some action! Arriving in exactly the place we were supposed to be and at precisely the right time, we were promptly shouted at by an anaesthetist. And then again by the nurse in charge of the theatre. Following this I was asked by the head surgeon performing the operation if I was asleep, purely because I asked a question about the ultrasound scanner they were using. I didn’t understand what he meant by this, because surely asking questions is the exact opposite of what you do when you are asleep (unless you are my brother, but then the questions tend to relate to penguins or “the mysterious albino gentleman”, and make very little grammatical sense), but the assisting surgeon seemed to find it riotously funny, to the extent that he poured the pot of KY Jelly he was holding all down the patient’s leg.

In fact all this week seems to have left me with is the notion that - if you are a third year medical student spending your first week “working” in a hospital - the only way that you can avoid being sworn at, shouted at, or in any other way humiliated, is to not turn up at all. An option which I chose on Friday. But I remain confident that next week will be entirely different…

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