It’s almost time for the asynchronous community service applications in SA, and shortly thereafter the regular applications will begin. So I thought I’d take a break from dispensing medicine, and dispense a tip I could have used:
Apply somewhere that is going to challenge you.
Apply somewhere that you will be expected to work with a reasonable level of independence. Probably the best place to do community service, in my opinion, is somewhere that you can do emergency medicine, or at least your overtime in emergency medicine. Yes, even if you don’t want to do EM in the long run.
Why? Because EM will teach you independence. EM will teach you how to think on your feet. And EM will give you plenty of experience with emergency situations in whatever specialty. Everywhere I have applied, emergency scenarios have formed part of the interview.
This advice comes from experience. I was lucky enough to get my first choice for ComServe: a highly specialised children’s hospital. But it was also a safe choice. At that stage, I wanted to do paediatrics as a career. I was going to do a Diploma in Child Health, and I’d be set. Except… I’ve since changed my mind. I still love kids, but paediatrics isn’t my first choice anymore.
It’s not just that. Because I was in a highly specialised setting, I was not encouraged to act independently. We always had backup close at hand, and we were expected to make use of it. And while I’m thankful for a great many things during that year, I’ve noticed that in job applications, I’ve been at a distinct disadvantage. I’ve lost a lot of the skills I gained in internship, while my peers have been able to build on theirs. I’ve been studying up as much as possible, but as we all know, theory is a poor substitute for hands-on experience.
A year in EM would have been especially beneficial to me, because of my self-confidence issues. I know that I know how to do certain things, but my lack of self-confidence often means that I hold back. More experience in EM would have forced me to dig deep and take ownership of situations.
So apply to that rural post with limited resources. Apply to that busy hospital in the township. Apply to that day hospital with an overflow of trauma. (Just make sure you have some support, like a psychologist, for regular debriefing.) It’s one year, and it will only benefit you in future.