As the alarm rang on the morning of Black Wednesday 2020 (the first Wednesday in August when the new cohort of doctors start working in the NHS), realisation struck hard - summer holidays were now officially a thing of the past, and from that day forward, I carried a responsibility that I’d been working toward for a significant period of my life. Having graduated in early 2020 just as the now-global pandemic was spreading to Europe, I had managed to make it back home in the nick of time before all flights were halted. Total lockdown was not exactly how I’d imagined celebrating achieving one of my dreams, however, the enforced stop and rest was received with gratitude. Fast forward a few strange months - I had my full GMC licence, had moved into a new place and more importantly, I finally had my first job as a doctor. Securing a job working at the same hospital as a few of my close friends, also Masaryk University alumni, who had graduated the year prior, meant that I was extremely lucky to have people for support and guidance. Since then, I have completed a 4-month rotation in Cardiology, have moved Urology and have had my first on-call day, night and weekend shifts covering General Surgery. Unsurprisingly it’s been a steep learning curve, however having reflected upon this period of time, I hope I can provide a few words of advice (in no particular order) which may help incoming doctors.
During your shadowing period, whether it be a couple of days or a week, your main focus should be to not learn the medicine but to learn things that will make your job as FY1 doctor easier. For example, spend time on figuring out how to use the IT system, how to prescribe medications, or knowing where the blood bottles and tourniquets are stored. Use this period to connect with other FY1s and FY2s - everyone is in the same boat and friends will want to help you out when you need it.
Nurses, porters, pharmacists, janitors, ward clerks etc - respect every single member of the wider team. Most of these people have been there longer than you have and have the knowledge to help you out if you’re stuck. Be friendly to everyone, respect them.
Ward rounds (especially surgical ward rounds) can be stressful for you as an FY1. Your seniors are always thinking faster than you can act. The art of listening, typing and walking at the same time is a skill you will pick up in no time. However, if you didn’t quite catch part of a patient’s plan, never hesitate to stop the team and double-check. Your patient’s safety is of the utmost priority in any situation.
Accept that this period of transitioning from a medical student to a medical doctor is a stressful one. It’s a huge change in the environment and all of a sudden you have adult responsibilities at home and at work. Accept that you will not know much medicine, swallow your pride and always know where your personal limits lie - never continue treating a patient with doubt in your mind, always ask for help. At this stage of your career, no question is a stupid question.
Set boundaries. I cannot emphasise how important this is - if you finish at 17:00 make sure you hand over the remaining jobs to the on-call doctor and leave. There will be days where emotions around whatever occurred during your shift will take a toll on you. Burnout is real. Look after yourself.
Organisation is key. You will work 5 days a week on average, and if you’re not careful you might spend your free time just resting and recovering from working. Be organised, think and plan a few days ahead - know when you want to work out, know which day you’ll need to go grocery shopping, know when you’re scheduling time to see your friends or work on those projects you’ve been meaning to start. You can achieve whatever you want to outside of medicine, as long as you manage your time well.
Remember it’s a process. You will not feel competent overnight, but always be keen to learn and always ask for help. You will have many growth spurts - starting your job, having your first on-call shift, working your first night shift. Embrace the process and enjoy watching your own growth!
Dr Karthi Suresh graduated from Masaryk University at the beginning of 2020 and is currently halfway through her Foundation Year 1 job at West Suffolk Hospital NHS. She is passionate about medical education and is co-author of a children’s book series called Ralph The Emu, which aims to introduce health education to younger generations. If you have any questions on FY1 life, you can follow and message her on Instagram @dr.karthikeyini