Shadowing a Doctor

February 9, 2015

Jamieson in full gear while on placement in Tanzania. Part of me thinks that many people looking to apply to Medical School have a kind of distorted view of what it might be like to be a doctor. I’ll be the first to admit that I love medical dramas on TV, however I’ve made a few observations during this period of work experience that I think are pretty interesting:

Sometimes I think that it might give people some perspective to consider medical dramas to be a sub-genre of sci-fi, in which the rules of the world created in the show are completely different to our own. The Medical profession that I have encountered is no where near as glamorous as it’s portrayed in dramas, and it’s an easy trap to fall into to picture yourself in a white-coat meeting patients in a big fancy office. I recently undertook a placement at a local GP surgery, and I learned a great deal about the realism of being a doctor; things that I think really differentiate between those who want to be health professionals and those who want to be Ash from Casualty, or Mindy Lahiri from The Mindy Project. So what do I mean by this?

The life of a Doctor is not an easy one, especially as a junior doctor. Working 12 hour shifts and learning intensely on the job are a part of life. When I shadowed in the Urology department at a hospital I saw this first hand. I asked the doctor why she stayed under these trying circumstances. Her reply was simply “because I love it.” And this was clearly true. Whether she was being shouted at by the Urology registrar, or taking blood from a more vocal patient, it was clear to me that she was fascinated by what she did, and motivated by the knowledge that there were patients out there who desperately needed her help (she was constantly reminded of this by her pager). It was at this point that I started to love the idea of being in her position; working under intense stress and scrutiny, figuring out what to do along the way and learning from experience – after all there is only so much you can learn from textbooks. This was problem-based learning as I’d never seen it before, and I couldn’t get enough.

Students learning clinical procedures from their hospital mentors The GP surgery was a completely different environment from the hospital, and I missed the fast pace and excitement that the hospital provided. What I liked about the surgery was the diversity in cases: one minute the doctor would be planning someone’s care at a nursing home, and the next minute they’d be prescribing antibiotics for an infected leg wound. What I learned from the doctors is that most of them enjoyed general practice because of the continuity; they would see the same family in the surgery over a number of years, and would be able to build good patient-doctor relationships. In the hospital this isn’t possible, as the volume of patients is huge, and all-at-once. Another thing I picked up was that as a hospital doctor, you become more and more specialised to the point where you might see lots of patients in the same day with the same problem, taking some of the variation out of your working life. This might not be a bad thing, but these doctors were adamant that an exciting aspect of their job was that there was always something different about to come through the door.

Whilst at the surgery, I was able to participate in a tutorial for some Cambridge Medicine students. The doctor who led this session introduced us to a case study, and the students tried to work out what the best course of action was, in a limited time. I loved this: the diagnostics element of Medicine is extremely interesting to me, and I cannot wait for a time when I’ll be in consultation with patients, deducing their illnesses, finding out what to do, and communicating this to them. Good communication can be the key to curing illness effectively.