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I’m just re-watching Cardiac Arrest, the 1994 BBC drama that is, according to Wikipedia, voted to be the top medical drama of all time as voted for by doctors. My husband, a newly CCt’d GP had never watched it and got it for me as a Valentine’s present on DVD, mostly because I’d gone on about it for ages and he wanted to see what the fuss was about.
At the moment I’m at home on maternity leave, hence the watching DVDs in the day. When I’m back at work, I’m a public health registrar, so actually my working day is about a million miles from the ups and downs of the ward. But the bleep of the pager is a bit like the insistent crying of a baby; I’ve found the feeling associated with the sound never quite leaves you and in a second can transport you back to that heightened sense of alertness just for a split-second.
Things weren’t quite as bleak as Cardiac Arrest when I did my Foundation jobs thirteen years later. The black humour, the hierarchy, the need to rapidly toughen up, the fumbling trepidation of trying to stick a needle in a patient through a fog of exhaustion (I’m one of the ‘New Deal’ generation, but can vouch for the challenge of a long weekend on call or seven busy nights in a row). The nurses I worked with were much nicer and I think my medical school tried hard to prepare us for the practical aspects of the job, but most of all it was the support of the other doctors that got me through. Where things worked well, it was because we were part of a team and worked hard together. But if things didn’t work out, the team was genuinely awesome. The registrar who took me up to the mess for tea and toast when we’d spent hours with a patient who’d developed a massive GI bleed, got him to theatre but hadn’t been able to save him. My SHO who told me that this rotation was bloody awful, but it’d make us ‘bomb proof’ (she was right). The staff grade doctor who scanned me and took my bleep when I had a miscarriage whilst I was on-take for gynae. The respiratory consultant who made sure his door was always open and supported me when I struggled after rotating into a neonatal job. It’s the people that make the job.
I started medicine late, as a graduate student and I moved into public health (after being a specialist trainee in O&G) with the hope that it would suit my combination of skills and that my experience of working in busy clinical environments would be useful. I also worried about how to combine a family life with both parents doing busy clinical jobs. There are moments where I miss clinical practice and the immediacy of looking after patients. I wonder what the future holds for the next generation of doctors; will we be able to find resolution on the junior doctor contract? Will working in a clinical environment continue to improve for women, especially those with children? These things worry me, and I fear a return to a broken NHS and the worst aspect of the pre-New Deal working conditions.