This one time, at badEMfest18…

Remember that time I went to a little town (village??) called Greyton, with some friends, and had a blast?

It happened again.

This time, not as a student, but as a doctor. Then, Greyton enriched me. This time, it may well have changed my life. Or at least, my career. (Are they really two different things?)

badem-rd

I went to a conference called BAD EM Fest – Brave African Discussions in Emergency Medicine. “But you don’t even like Emergency Medicine,” my best friend said. Lies, damned lies! I don’t NOT like EM. I just find it terrifying. (For the record, there were HCPs from various specialties, not limited to EM.)

And I would have left it there, except that one of the organisers kept encouraging me to sign up (thanks, Kat), and it looked so fun. Where have you ever heard of a medical conference where attendees glamp (Google it), walk around barefoot, and go for twice-daily hikes in the mountains? Oh, and have live music shows in the evenings at dinner.

So with a little bit of encouragement from my friends, I shut my eyes tightly, told the little voice in my head that said, “BUT YOU HATE CROWDS” to shut up, and clicked “pay”.

I could tell you a lot of important stuff about the conference, but most of it has been said quite eloquently, by Penny Wilson, Andrew Tagg, Dan Roberts, Kaleb Lachenicht, and Simon Carley.

While I learned a whole lot, the reason badEMfest felt almost like a religious experience (minus the mandatory guilt and hell-fire), was a lot more personal.

After the first session, which included talks ranging from diversity to advocacy, I turned to my friend, May, and whispered, “No matter what happens now, this is already worth it.”

Here’s the thing about May, though: we have been friends on Twitter for years, but we only met in person that day. You wouldn’t have guessed it (and many people were surprised) because we knew each other’s lives so well. Gone are the days where “internet friends are not real friends”.

May is not the first Twitter-friend I have met in person, and she certainly was not the last: in those four days I met local and international healthcare professionals that I have followed (and admired) for years. It was not uncommon to ask a new face, “Who are you on Twitter?”

So it was at the end of the first day that I had a moment of clarity: These are my people.

And you will know how huge that is, if you’ve ever felt alone in medicine. If you’ve ever thought that you were alone in being affected by the non-clinical aspects of your patients’ lives. If you have ever felt impotent to effect real change. If you have ever felt victimised. If you have ever shouted unto the void, and received only an echo in exchange.

My depression means I often feel isolated – even when that is not the case. Because I have been afraid, and because depression told me that I was not worthy, I have not reached out to role models; I have not asked for advice when I could (should) have; I have often re-invented the wheel, and done so poorly.

To be fair, I did have a few nasty supervisors in my training. But at badEMfest, I saw how kindness permeates medicine. I met super-bosses. I met absolutely innovative people. I met some of the kindest, most compassionate clinicians.

Part of me was bitter – how had I been allowed to go so long without knowing that I was not alone? But in the face of overwhelming support, bitterness is so hard to hold on to. Instead, I’ve got an overwhelming urge to make sure that junior doctors and medical students get to know that they are not alone. To make sure that kindness outnumbers the nasties. Because it is easy to think that the slave-driving registrar is representative of the rest of medicine. But maybe they’re having a horrible time too. Everybody needs some kindness.

facc79c346f515cc4a52abdbeadb84a2

And I’ve got this bubble of excitement as I consider my next steps… because suddenly, anything is possible.

SaveSave

Advertisements

The Threat of Fun-employment

In final year, we thought that getting an internship post at our desired hospital was the hardest – and most coveted – thing.

Two years later, we all tried to find a community service posting that would give us a foot into the door to our future specialties.

But we didn’t know that those were the easy parts. Then, we still pretty much had guaranteed employment (most of us, at least).

Then came the end of Community Service, and reality hit us in the face: we were on our own.

* * *

That’s where I am now. The government no longer “owes” me a job, and unless I find one, I’ll be unemployed come January 2018. People used to say, “There’s no such thing as an unemployed doctor.” These days, there are plenty of them, because freezing posts is a done thing. Continue reading “The Threat of Fun-employment”

Can I Be A Depressed Doctor?

Ever since I wrote about how going for therapy was my biggest gift to myself*, I’ve met with a few medical students to talk about the topic of mental health. Many of them were worried about their ability to make it through med school with their illness. Many were worried about the viability of a career in medicine with depression.

d57fcdfb544456e8bd23e50d48e641e9

When I was a student, there was a rumour that students with mental illness would be excluded from the course. We were informed by our senior students, and they by theirs, and thus the rumour was propagated. Continue reading “Can I Be A Depressed Doctor?”

Mental Health Begins With Medical Students

Every few months, the mental health of doctors/medical students makes it to popular media. It seems like these spikes in attention occur, and everyone shouts YOU SHOULD CARE FOR YOUR DOCTORS! and then we write blogs and we tweet and we make youtube videos and eventually we go back to work, and nothing has changed.

I think we are the missing link. And by “we”, I mean qualified doctors. And also, you, the older doctors. Continue reading “Mental Health Begins With Medical Students”

FAQ: Will I Get Into Med School?

Ever since I first posted tips for applying to medicine (in South Africa) in 2014, I have received multiple questions from aspirant medical students.

give up hope dont

The hardest to answer (and thus one of the most popular) is DO I STILL STAND A CHANCE? – usually prefaced with the person’s failure to achieve the desired grades for medical admission, or some other stumbling block. Continue reading “FAQ: Will I Get Into Med School?”

A Key To Disillusionment In Work And Play

disillusionment2The phenomenon of disillusionment is well-discussed in the world of medicine. Roundabout third year of medical school, students begin to realise that the medical world simply does not live up to what they envisioned.

It is easy to say, “Just don’t have such high expectations,” but in reality a doctor without vision becomes a mindless drone. Disillusionment is discussed so widely because even though by definition it seems simple, its origins and characteristics are complex.

Funnily enough, I began to really understand disillusionment when I started club-running. Don’t be mistaken: joining a club was the best decision I could have made. It introduced me to many like-minded people and provided ample opportunity to amp my mileage.

I joined a club because I felt that I loved running enough to do so, but not long after joining I started experiencing an emotion I recognised from the medical world. I was feeling disillusioned. Continue reading “A Key To Disillusionment In Work And Play”

[Guest Post] From Nursing to Medicine

While the best-known route to medical school in South Africa is the “conventional”: finish high school and enter med school the next January, it is by far not the only route followed by medical students here.

The journeys are numerous, like Tash’s journey of an older medical student, which she graciously shared here.

nurse to med school

Today, Roxanne shares her journey from nursing to medical school. Roxanne is a fourth year medical student at the University of Stellenbosch. We lived across from each other when she was a first year and I in my fifth. She impressed me from the beginning, with her humility, passion and eagerness to learn. This is her story: Continue reading “[Guest Post] From Nursing to Medicine”

Another Song for Medical Student, Interns, and Basically Everyone

I heard this song for the first time as I was driving to my New Year’s Day call on Friday. Apparently I’m the only person in the whole world who hasn’t heard it, but WHATEVER okay.

I wept a little.

THIS is what I want to say to people. To the new interns who are hopefully going to realise this year that medicine was the right career for them; but who will certainly meet many challenges this year.

Medicine is hard and you’ll be expected to be super-human, never to have broken wings, never to feel like you can’t go on.

Remember that for every person who expects you to motor on without a wink of sleep,  without any debriefing after a difficult resuscitation, there is another who will lend you their wings when it’s hard.

Look for them. Look for us.

Find the people who will support you when your day or week or month is shitty.

And when your wings are working… please help someone who needs them.