Careers Advice, Destiny and Oprah

Posted on May 11, 2012

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This is going to be something of a reflective piece. But don’t panic, it won’t be getting too heavy (I hope).

If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt in my time at medical school, it’s managing the acute patient, interpreting blood results, differentiating between causes of abdominal pain err… oh yes, it’s learning to reflect on my experiences in order to grow as a person and inform my practice as one of tomorrow’s doctors. Honestly though, I don’t spend a great deal of time reflecting on my day-to-day experiences. In fact, I generally don’t reflect at all unless I’m required to compose 500 words on personal growth or have a meeting with my personal tutor.

That is, until today.

Destiny calls.

You see, for a long time all I wanted to be was a surgeon. I’ve been patient all year waiting for when it would be my turn to be sent on my very first surgical placement. I listened with great envy at tales of colleagues holding retractors, suturing and generally, to use an Americanism, hitting a placement home run. And then April arrived, and finally it would be me. ME!

My first week on upper GI was quite exciting, although we didn’t have so many patients. The team promised week 2 would be better; we were on take and would have patients exploding out of every orifice. The sheer volume of new surgical admissions would mean there would be no time to think; we’d have to strap on a life jacket and do our best not to drown in the river of patients of near Amazonian scale flowing from A&E to the surgical wards to theatres.

For such a big build up, the show turned out to be somewhat anticlimactic.

I appreciate that at a reasonably small district general hospital there just won’t be as many patients as at a whopping tertiary centre, but the total lack of patients isn’t the only thing that I’ve found somewhat disappointing. There’s really very little happening on the ward, so clerking patients and taking blood tends to provide the punctuation in a daylong coffee break, rather than vice-versa. I do enjoy a cup of coffee, but honestly, I’m starting to get palpitations.

Clinics have been quite interesting- I know now how to examine hernial orifices, always remembering to feel “swiftly and confidently for the pubic tubercle so as not to alarm the patient” as one clinical skills textbook directed me. And the surgery really has been quite inspiring, like the bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction I saw today (though perhaps not the hernia repairs). But the surgeons seem to have the same procedures time and time again on their operating lists. Lap chole’s in the morning. Hernia repairs in the afternoon. I always find going into theatres interesting, and I always learn something, but I don’t know how long my enthusiasm for seeing the same operations over and over again will last. I’m beginning to question whether it’s for me after all. I don’t find myself getting excited about the idea of surgery in the same way that I get excited about other specialities, like anaesthetics. And I’m not picturing myself gloved and gowned asking for a lahey clamp and admonishing the assisting surgeon for not holding the retractor in a way that allows me to see what I’m doing.

So now I’m adrift in a sea of ambiguity. I feel like I should be enjoying surgery more, since I’ve spent the last 18 or so years wanting to do nothing else, but I’m beginning to question whether I’m paddling against the tide.

If you’ve got any careers advice, please feel free to post it in the comments below. Don’t be shy!

— UPDATE —

Oprah Winfrey fights to hold back the tears after reading an inspirational bog post

As it happens, I’ve just been catching up on some of the blogs I like to read, and I’ve been particularly taken with this post by the Angry Medic (who if you don’t follow, you really should). The video embedded therein is inspirational in a way that would move Oprah to tears. And after writing this entire blog post, I’m really not too worried any more. Here’s an especially relevant snippet:

“Lesson number 8: Don’t worry too much about the future. You know what makes your heart swell, you know what makes your breath catch in your throat, you know what makes your chest tighten with anticipation. Go get that.”

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