Train your trainees

I’ve been spending a lot of time in labour ward anaesthesia this past month. It’s great, because I get all the gratification of the caesarian sections (I remember it well from internship), without having to wade through blood and amniotic fluid and human excreta myself.

This tweet in part inspired this post.

Another thing I remember well, is the tension in theatre when the intern is cutting. I had such difficulty getting my ten caesarian sections for our logbook signed off, because so few seniors were willing to let an intern cut. It’s not only the obstetrician – often, it’s the theatre nursing staff. To be fair, nobody likes to be scrubbed in for a routine caesarean that lasts ninety minutes. Other times, it’s the anaesthetists. Because nobody likes to worry that their spinal anaesthetic might wear off before the surgery is over.

I have had a taste of the same with my new position, too. Not having done anaesthesia in four years, there is a lot I have had to relearn. My “teachers” have been great, and I seem finally to be finding my feet, but there have often been grumblings from surgical teams when I was slow. As an intern, I might have minimised myself and declined to perform the procedure. But now, I need to learn, and quickly. So I have been pushing back harder (when not to the patient’s detriment) – and to my new colleagues’ credit, they have supported me.

Check the replies on this tweet – they made me feel so much better.

Having experienced this, I will always be the annoying medical officer who encourages the intern/student/newbie to perform procedures. Not because I think I’m so wonderful, but because I want trainees to feel as nurtured as I have felt these past few months, and not as burdensome as I sometimes did as a student and an intern.

Sometimes, I think clinicians forget that they were inexperienced and under-qualified juniors once, too. There is nothing admirable about learning to place an intercostal drain on YouTube, without senior supervision, as many of us like to brag. That is a sign of a failing system. We should be taught and guided by others with experience. We deserve that. Our patients deserve that.

I also know that it is a system that fails not only interns. I know that demoralised doctors have little interest in training juniors. (But that is a discussion for another day.)

Interns who are not competent become dangerous medical officers, wherever they may go for ComServe. They have both the right and the responsibility to be trained. We have the responsibility to ensure that they attain their very best, even if they are afraid while doing so. We do it to pay forward the teaching we have received. Or if we were not so fortunate, we do it to improve where others failed us.

Train your trainees. It kind of goes without saying.

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