Things Driving Taught Me About Medicine (And Vice Versa)

You may have picked up that learning to drive was a pretty momentous part of my life, so yeah, I yammer on about it quite a bit. I don’t know if it would have had such significance for me had I learned at seventeen, like normal South African kids, but here I am, thinking about this quite a lot more than is probably normal. And since the other big part of my daily life is medicine, my wacky brain has started to find similarities between the two.

1. Use it or lose it

I had my first driving lesson when I was eighteen. I freaked my instructor (Mom) out so much that my next lesson was only six months later. I promptly broke the speeding limit and took my next lesson a year after THAT. So is it any wonder that it took me eons to learn? They say you never really forget how to drive, but even now, if I haven’t driven in a few weeks (it has happened), I find myself getting off to a rocky start and making silly mistakes.

Medicine is pretty similar. It took me ages to learn ophthalmoscopy, and when I did it again recently I struggled all over again. Medicine is full of skills that you lose if you don’t practice them enough (including putting up IVs).

2. Always have an exit strategy

Vigilant driving often means thinking for others on the road. If the person in front of you stops suddenly, what will you do? If somebody tries to smash your window at the traffic light, what will you do? Similarly, if the patient yanks their arm away just as you break the skin, how will you react? If your patient collapses right now, what should your first action be?

3. Simulation has its place, but it is nothing like in real life

When I struggled with driving confidence, one of our friends had the bright idea of having me play racing games on my brother’s X-box. It helped a bit in getting me to be confident with turns and so on. I also did the usual parking-lot-at-night-thing. But when it comes right down to it, nothing beats being in rush-hour traffic and just having to deal with it. Similarly, no plastic prostate feels like a real one, and you can suture as much pig-skin as you like, but it won’t be the same as suturing a real squirming patient.

4. Sometimes you just need a different approach

I get really tense, and it showed in my early driving. I was constantly swerving and having to correct my alignment. Eventually my instructor (WHO DOES NOT GET PAID ENOUGH, SERIOUSLY) made me drive one-handed. It really improved my dexterity and forced me to relax my shoulders. I still drive one handed sometimes when I realise I’m gripping the wheel too tightly. In hospital, I sometimes find that doing something one-handed (like drawing blood) or practicing sutures with my eyes closed (but never in a real patient) really improves my skills as well.

5. Experience can make you a douche-pants

When I have a good driving-day, I sometimes find myself being really mean in my head to other drivers. I have to remind myself that I struggled like heck – and sometimes still do. Definitely a phenomenon we see in medicine too, and that we need to actively guard against. We were all little junior students once!


Am I totally weird or am I making sense? Either way, I’m in the process of buying my first car in my name so that’s pretty exciting and big!


  1. For someone who is still struggling to learn how to drive, this totally made sense. I love those lessons, as I have always like the way you look at things.

  2. That first one is SO TRUE for me right now, and it sucks because sometimes it feels like physicians expect you to remember everything you’ve ever been taught during medical school. Nope. Being on elective in Australia for 8 weeks, where they did hardly any teaching, made me super rusty.

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