Starting your first job as a qualified doctor can be exciting, but it can also be scary and comes with lots of challenges. In this article, Dr. Mahibur Rahman looks at 10 tips to help you in your first post.
1. Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions!
Even if you have spent a period shadowing the doctor you will be replacing, there will be lots of things that will be new to you when you start working. Some things will be specific to that ward (like where they keep specific forms), some will be specific to that hospital, or department, some will even be specific to each consultant you work with. If there is anything you are unsure of, don’t be scared to ask. You may feel shy or embarrassed, but it is important to overcome this and ask so that you can do your job properly rather than pretend you know what to do or where to go and then cause problems.
2. Eat, drink, take a break
It is easy to get caught up with all the requests from the ward, patients waiting to be clerked in the emergency department and find that you have gone without any food, drink or a rest and it is almost the end of your shift. The first few days, you may not realise as you are fuelled by adrenaline, but this is not sustainable. Make sure that you have some proper food, away from a desk at lunchtime. Stay hydrated with water, tea / coffee throughout the day. It is easy to be overwhelmed by all the different tasks on your list, but it is important to take a break for a few minutes to recharge yourself. Apart from a cardiac arrest or something of similar urgency, most tasks can wait 5-10 minutes.
3. Remember everybody is nervous
It is normal to feel nervous your first time doing anything as a qualified doctor – and the second, third, and fourth time in some cases! You won’t be the only one feeling nervous, so if you need some help or want to talk a procedure over with a senior colleague or look something up, it is fine! We won’t think less of you – in fact I prefer the junior colleague who admits when they are unsure and asks for help, especially early on. Remember we all had similar experiences when we started.
4. We all make mistakes – take responsibility
There will be times you won’t be able to find a vein to take blood, when you will attempt to cannulate 3 times and get nowhere, or fill in a form incorrectly. Own your mistakes. Admit it, apologise for it, and do what you can to fix it. Sometimes you will have to ask someone senior to help with this – this is part of your learning and we are all human. What you shouldn’t do is try to cover up a mistake, or shift the blame to someone else. Eventually this will lead to more serious problems.
5. Watch out for yourself and your colleagues
We all know that medicine can be stressful, and there are comparatively high numbers of doctors that suffer from things like depression, stress, alcohol and drug dependence. As well as looking after yourself and ensuring you seek help from your own GP if you feel you are becoming unwell, watch out for any signs that your colleagues might need support.
6. Medicine is a team sport
Looking after our patients’ needs will involve lots of team members. As well as doctors, there are the nurses, health care assistants, ward clerks, secretaries, porters, radiographers, cleaners and many more. Acknowledge the role others in the team play – say thank you, get to know them and they will help you when you need them. Bring in some treats for the nursing team on your main ward once in a while and see the benefits!
7. Smile, and the world smiles with you
Although you may be tired and or stressed out, remember that your patient may be in pain, worried, scared, feeling sick and emotional. In most situations, a smile goes a long way make the patient a little more comfortable. Of course, there are times when you may need to avoid smiling e.g. if you are breaking bad news or if a patient is angry and they might mistake a smile as you not taking their situation seriously, but hopefully you will be able to recognise this early on. Similarly, your colleagues may be feeling tired or stressed if the shift is really busy – your smile may help lift them up and boost their morale a little bit.
8. Don’t forget “My name is…”
Start every interaction with a patient with a polite, professional introduction, let them know your name and your role as one of the doctors in the team. It is not only common courtesy, but it will help start your consultation or assessment on the right foot.
9. Plan ahead
Try to meet with the other junior doctors early on and plan any dates when you need someone to cover your on call so you can go to a family event, or attend a course. Plan your holidays in advance and try to book a break – knowing something is booked can give you something to look forward to which can help you get through those tough shifts or difficult weeks.
10. Wear sensible shoes
You will be on your feet and do a lot of walking (and occasionally running) as a junior doctor. From doing ward rounds, taking emergency bloods to the lab, going to radiology to request scans, going back and forth to the emergency department to clerk in new patients and going up and down stairs to respond to pager requests from different wards and running to cardiac arrests. Buying some smart but comfortable shoes will make a real difference by the end of the shift!
I hope these tips are helpful and I wish you all the best in your new job – welcome to the medical profession! Please do add your own tips in the comments and share this with any of your friends who are starting as junior doctors!
Dr. Mahibur Rahman is a portfolio GP and a consultant in medical education. He qualified as a doctor in 2001 and as a GP in 2007.