I’ve finished my first two full weeks as a junior doctor. I didn’t expect to be saying that for at least another three months. I also didn’t expect to be saying that I’ve really enjoyed it.
I say that because starting your first full-time job in any field of work is a daunting prospect. And having read a story or two from Adam Kay, starting work as a junior doctor is really quite frightening.
What's more, starting work as a junior doctor in the middle of a worldwide pandemic is quite frankly terrifying. But so far, so good.
Assessing, admitting, treating and referring
For the past two weeks I have been working at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust (RCHT) on the Acute Medical Unit. Here we see all medical admissions, so a real variety of ages and conditions. We assess, admit, treat and refer patients appropriately, depending on their presentations.
There are a fantastic team of nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, ward clerks, porters, cleaners, physician associates and emergency medical technicians (to name a few!) who work together to achieve optimal care and efficiency.
Working as a team
I have felt so lucky to be welcomed into this team of people who have been working so hard for many months throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. They have worked through anxiety, apprehension, uncertainty and have consistently adapted to variable working conditions.
We are fortunate that so far in the South West the number of COVID-19 cases has remained low. Thankfully the ‘worst case scenario’ plans that have been prepared have not been required. However, this doesn’t mean that this significant event hasn’t brought its challenges.
Embracing the challenges
The biggest challenge that I have experienced in my first few weeks of work has been adapting the skills that I have learned during medical school to the new environment.
I arrived equipped with the communication skills that have been shaped over five years, but I now have to speak to my patients through a mask, using only my eyes to express my thoughts and only my patient’s eyes to understand their emotions.
I'm re-learning to conduct basic examinations at a safe distance with protective clothing on while also taking fully histories from patients without paper notes to reduce contamination.
Adapting to new environments
Whilst this was a gradual movement for those already working in healthcare, I have had to adapt to this new environment in a matter of hours and become a new doctor all at the same time.
In my first few weeks I’ve already had to face those challenging questions: “Do you think its cancer?”, “Is she going to die?”, and in those moments attempt to ignore all that is going on around us.
It had been easy to forget that in many ways, life has continued despite the restrictions and returning to the hospital has been a clear reminder of that.
I find it remarkable that the whole workforce, and the team of new doctors that I am a part of, are all remaining so positive and upbeat despite all of these challenges.
There is a great sense of team spirit and personally I feel very lucky to have a purpose. As a new graduate, I have job security and I'm proud of what I do, but that is not unique to this time.
Healthcare and easing lockdown rules
As lockdown rules ease, there will be many more people heading back to work, adapting their own environments and putting themselves at risk in order to help us all graduate back to normality.
I hope that we all continue to work as one big team to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and that we respect the challenges that everyone faces. My new understanding of the challenges, even in an area which has been less affected than some, has emphasised the importance of this to me.
The fewer the cases, the fewer restrictions we will have on access to healthcare and the more normal life can become again.