Towards the end of my foundation training I was utterly exhausted in more ways than one. I was physically, mentally and emotionally drained.
I worked so many hours, always doing my best for the patients in my care. I was also constantly trying to stay strong mentally and emotionally strong within a system that I felt was trying its best to force me away from my dream - working as a doctor.
I decided I was going to take a break from my training. It was like a having a huge weight lifted off my shoulders as I completed my last day as a foundation year two doctor.
However, despite my happiness at being ‘free’ from the system and the intensity of training I still felt very lost. I knew that the clock was ticking for me to make a decision - to leave medicine or to return to a system that I did not particularly like working in.
Ever since I was a child working as a doctor has always been my dream. Growing up all my efforts were directed to becoming a doctor and making a difference in the world. Despite the six long years at medical school I still feel that I was not fully prepared for what was waiting for me as a foundation doctor.
For the most part of my year out I felt so lost, I felt as though my whole life had been a lie. I looked for other job opportunities and avenues within and outside of medicine but nothing felt right. Nothing could compare to my love for medicine.
I realised that I still wanted to work as a doctor, I still wanted to develop my clinical skills and I wanted to complete my training. I still wanted to make a positive contribution to the world, through my work as a doctor.
However, I did not want to leave the UK; I did not want to uproot myself from my life here where my family and friends were.
Once I realised it was the system - the NHS - that was the problem, my vision cleared instantly. I knew that my passion for medicine was still within me, but I knew that if I was going to commit to more training I would need to develop a plan to cope with the intensity and demands of fulltime training.
I knew that I needed to develop the mental strength and resilience in order to return to a system I was not happy in. I knew that if I could not change the system I would need to change my attitudes and outlook towards the system so that I could succeed.
Considering general practice and then selecting it as a further training programme was when my plan came into action.
Why I chose general practice
We are all aware of the problems the NHS faces, but it still needs doctors and health professionals working above and beyond to make sure it keeps going.
I chose general practice for several reasons, among those were a good work-life balance and a relatively short training programme with an eighteen months hospital placement.
However, the main reason I chose general practice was because, once trained, there is a plethora of opportunities to choose from. There are many GPs who are not only GPs, they are entrepreneurs, life coaches, involved with medical politics, medico-legal advisors, CQC inspectors, CCG officers and more. They have varied and diverse careers and this is exactly what I want to achieve also.
It is incredibly easy to become ‘lost’ within medicine, to become trapped, institutionalised and forgetful of yourself and your loved ones. By immersing yourself in other medical and non-medical areas, by pursuing your interests and passions, by essentially having a portfolio career you can become a better doctor who is less susceptible to mental and physical ‘burn out’ and contribute so much more to your clinical practice.
I think it is essential that we take steps to educate school students and medical students about what medicine is really like and what they can expect from medical training in addition to showing them the working world of life as a doctor. I believe this will ensure they are better equipped to cope with the ‘system’ should they choose medicine as a career.
Medicine is still a fantastic profession and we need to make sure, as a collective, that we do not lose any more highly-skilled and intelligent individuals from a system that is already in a precarious situation.
- Dr Baptiste is a ST1 GP trainee in Romford, Essex. During her year away from medicine Dr Baptiste set up DreamSmartTutors, an organisation that aims to educate and inform students about working life as a doctor and help them successfully apply to medical school.