Back to school

New year and I’m back to (medical) school. I’ve been back since last September but my laziness and forgetfulness means I’m only just getting round to writing about it now!

So I’m back and in my fourth year of medicine. The curriculum’s changed, the medical school dean has left, and there’s no longer the dreaded logbook. The re-start was both (sort of) exciting and nerve-wracking. Having been out for 9 months, my clinical skills were rough around the edges and my medical knowledge probably wasn’t as sharp as it should be. I was lucky enough to start on a rotation that didn’t involve too much learning of brand new medicine; it was actually a good refresher of things I should already know ..which turned out to be not a lot.

The first term was tough to be honest. Trying to get back into the swing of things wasn’t easy. I was back to being a medical student, which was nice as my time was more flexible and I could do what I wanted, but it also meant I had to be a medical student. That meant trailing round after doctors and trying to be useful and learn something. Not always easy when some doctors clearly don’t want you there or think you’re some kind of idiot. That’s the downside to being out for so long – I forgot what being a medical student was actually like.

The usual pre-christmas, mid-winter, stress breakdown occurred sometime in November. I could feel it brewing and it was the same as it was a year earlier: feelings of hating medical school, medicine, and anything related to either. Turns out I was just so desperate to finish medical school, I’d worked myself up into a frenzy. By the time I graduate, I will have been here for a total of 7 years, which is a long time to be in one institution. It’s actually the exact amount of time I spent in secondary school(!) That freaked me out and I wanted to quit. Having had the taste of being financially independent and earning a steady income, coming back was like a balloon being burst. I was desperate to fast forward the next 18 months.

Anyway, I’m back regardless and I’ve got to finish. No more breakdowns (except maybe around exams), just keep ploughing away until my finals this time next year. In almost exactly 12 months time, I will have finished my exams and I’ll know soon after if I’ve passed. Just 12 months to go. 12 months.

Big pharma & beignets

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I was lucky enough to get the chance to attend the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) Scientific Sessions in New Orleans this summer. It’s the largest conference on diabetes in the world and there were over 16,000 people in attendance.

I had actually never been to a medical conference before and to attend one that was as huge as ADA was pretty cool. Work had me attending as many of the presentations and sessions as possible, which was both interesing and dull. It was all a bit hectic as the venue was massive and going from one end to the other took 10-15mins walking..!

The experience of it all was great – and being on the industry side of it all was definitely different. Being from the UK, where medications are all paid for by the NHS, it was weird to be in America, where the promotion of medications is so liberal everywhere you look. The conference centre had booths set up by different pharma companies, each marketing and promoting their drug. It was a big eye-opener on how much money gets put into the pharmaceutical industry. Despite working in the field for 7 months now, it only really occurred to me when I was in New Orleans how much of it is about sales. Probably a little naive of me, really. But that’s not to say the work done by the pharma industry hasn’t helped those who need it.

I did make me think that I’d be better suited to be on the flipside of things. Being a clinician and collaborating with big pharma, as opposed to being immersed in the industry completely. I don’t know if healthcare marketing is something I’m totally ready for right now!

New Orleans itself was a blast, though. Great city with great food (I totally recommend an iced coffee + beignets at Cafe du Monde and a po’boy from NOLA Poboys) and people. The weather was hot and humid (along with thunderstorms and torrential rain) but I was lucky that the sun was shining on my days off from work to go out and enjoy it. Even got to see some ‘gators…

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My leave of absence

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When I tell people I’m on a leave of absence because I don’t know if I want to be a doctor anymore, I get a number of different responses:

  1. ‘Enjoy your time off – make the most of it!’
  2. ‘I wish I could do the same’
  3. ‘Don’t be silly, this feeling will pass’
  4. ‘Are you quitting medical school?!!’

Telling my parents was the most daunting thing. I had received a job offer as a junior medical writer and was trying to weigh up my options. I was torn between wanting to take the leap and try something new because I was fed up of medicine, or powering through in the hopes that it would get better. I think I’m lucky in that my parents are pretty understanding people. Whilst telling them I wanted time off wasn’t without tears, they seemed to understand that I had thought hard about it, and I wasn’t walking away from it forever.

The reason I was getting fed up was because I didn’t particularly like the job that I was seeing before me. The science side of it is fascinating to me, and always will be. However, the bureaucracy of it all was really putting me off. I didn’t really want a job where time off was potentially scheduled in for me, where there was no guarantee I would finish work at a certain time, or even know my rota far enough in advance.

People might argue that I should have known all this when I considered medicine as a career and I should have been prepared to make that sacrifice. But I disagree. I don’t think any 16/17 year old, myself included, would fully understand what the job would entail. With the recent uproar and public attention drawn to what working as an NHS doctor is really like in the UK, I think any young person considering medicine is thinking hard about it and (hopefully) making the most informed decision they can.

For me, taking this time out has been a great decision. It’s removed the tunnel vision that can take over when you are so focused on just one goal, i.e. becoming a doctor. I’ve had my horizons broadened and know that there is more beyond practicing as a doctor and several paths available to me once I’ve graduated.

I don’t regret choosing medicine. Without it I wouldn’t have had the experiences I’ve had and met the awesome people I know now.  Even if I don’t practice as a doctor when I graduate, I know that with those four letters after my name comes a certain level of skill and knowledge that can be transferable to any job I choose to pursue in the future. I don’t worry about what will happen after medical school because to me, making the leap into the working world was the biggest decision I’ve had to make, and it wasn’t as terrifying as I thought. I do plan to come back and finish my degree (although the thought of it does make me anxious), and I hope that I will return with a new attitude and outlook.