Certain sections of the British press love an excuse to bash doctors. You can guarantee that tomorrow — the first Wednesday in August — at least one shopworn hack will recycle the tired phrase ‘Black Wednesday’ in reference to the alleged risks to patients of entering hospital on day one of new doctors’ careers.
It’s tough enough taking those first tentative steps as a fledgling doctor — overwhelmed with imposter syndrome, convinced you’ll be found out — without newspaper headlines undermining you. I well remember a few years back the sting of the Daily Mail blaming new doctors themselves for the apparent increase in hospital deaths during August: ‘Black Wednesday: Today junior doctors will start work — and cause A&E death rates to increase by SIX per cent.’
Though anti-doctor spin is to be expected from the usual suspects, what is more surprising is the complicity — inadvertent or not — of those who should know better. In early August 2012, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, the Medical Director of NHS England, promised in an interview ‘to end the so-called killing season’, enabling various papers immediately to splash his lurid phrase all over their front pages.
Such injudicious use of language is deeply harmful to the morale of young doctors and has no place coming from senior NHS executives. Then again, it is Sir Bruce, as we know, who apparently regards every weekend in our hospitals as a mini ‘killing season’ — and who, the Independent revealed this January, was not at all adverse to Whitehall ‘sexing up’ his letter to junior doctors, insinuating that those on strike might not return to work in the event of a Paris-style terrorist attack causing mass casualties.
Perhaps it was not Sir Bruce’s intention to add a veneer of legitimacy to the Mail’s sensationalist claims about the annual ‘scandal’ of avoidable deaths caused by neophyte doctors. One hopes not — since the original study upon which these headlines were based used in-hospital mortality statistics that establish only correlation and not causation (much like Keogh’s own, infamous ‘weekend effect’ papers, themselves misused by Jeremy Hunt to blame excess weekend deaths on doctors being too lazy/avaricious to work weekends).
If tomorrow feels black to the NHS’s newest doctors, then that shadow is surely cast by a long, ignominious year of politicians, journalists and certain senior figures within the medical establishment casting aspersion after aspersion on the motives, hopes and values of the UK’s junior doctors. I’ve certainly found it tough staying positive while being smeared, attacked and bullied by a health secretary and his department’s press office.
But — dear medical students of today, doctors of tomorrow — you are about to discover something worth a thousand times more than a politician’s rhetoric. Tomorrow, you get to care for your very own patients. You get to discover the sheer privilege, the absolute joy of making a difference, every single day, to people’s lives. You will share their hopes, stitch their wounds, restart their stalled hearts and try to calm their worst fears. I don’t doubt your tenacity, dedication, intelligence, compassion. You could have chosen anything — hedge funds, Ferraris, fame, power. You didn’t. You chose helping people.
So please, for all those stomach-churning nerves, walk on to your ward tomorrow with your heads held high. You are the future of our NHS. Feel proud, really proud, because we are all so lucky to have you.
Incidentally, should the Government start up with its smears again, just remember to ignore every word. As Eleanor Roosevelt famously put it: ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’ Your slightly less junior, junior, doctor colleagues have your backs, tomorrow and always. We’ll help you with everything from your tricky cannulas to your peri-arrests, your computer logins to your precordial thumps.
And so help any politician, journalist or NHS apparatchik who dares to try and denigrate you.
Rachel Clarke is a specialty trainee 2 in infectious diseases in Oxford
Whole heartedly concur. We welcome you all, the next generation of doctors to your new careers and hope you will love it so you can keep doing it with pride.
I am not a doctor, my niece is.
Today s culture has changed the face of politics, - because this is what this is about, So much.
Teachers, Social Workers, are al basically bullied by the media- Privately owned & with its own greedy agenda. Doctors, nurses, we need & appreciate you all. Do not read newspapers for 3 months minimum! We, the public, support & love you
welcome to one and all please hold your heads high and know that many many people appreciate you Thank you
Great article by Rachel. The only trouble with 'You Are The Future of the NHS' is that polticians have a long term economic plan to ensure 'That the NHS Has No Future'. For they and there spouses there are dividends to reap.
Great article by Rachel. The only trouble with 'You Are The Future of the NHS' is that polticians have a long term economic plan to ensure 'That the NHS Has No Future'. For them and their spouses there are dividends to reap.
Good stuff R. I'm a junior doctor and have decided to be flattered by the junior bit as I'm pretty long in the tooth! Medicine is a great job, don't be put off. Look after each other and stay connected.
Oddly In some ways I'm grateful to The Jeremy for his tireless efforts to politicise and radicalize our profession. Has the BMA ever had a better recruiter?
I only ever wanted to be left alone to do my job but it seems the times mean we must take on a political role also. Medical practice in this country has been political since 1948 anyway as it's organization is based on socialist principles. It's entirely understandable that the swing to the right of recent decades would be causing a huge allergic reaction to our dear old NHS by 'The System'
Here! Here! Well said!
Thank you for the warm sentiments - great article Rachel
Junior Doctors need to grow up and to stop whinging about being "underpaid" all the time