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The silver lining of the junior doctor dispute: support from our seniors

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‘Look, LOOK! Is this like you?’

The arms of our predecessors seem more firmly around our shoulders than ever before

My three-year-old cousin flapped his book in my face with Haribo-fuelled fervour. I caught sight of the title: ‘Daisy the Doctor’. He had it open at a double page, which read: Daisy the Doctor is running late and still has a lot more patients to see. A shy young boy with tummy-ache. A big bald baby with a cough. An itchy little girl with eczema on her knee. A man with a sprained ankle.

It sounded familiar. Yet I found myself reluctant to meet his innocent gaze, filled with the curious reverence that only a three-year-old can conjure. Over the last few months, I was beginning to dread the fleeting looks of pity that followed any confession that I was a junior doctor. Even if they were from a toddler.

We were getting on the tube at the time, and I peeled a sticky Metro off the seat. The glinting eyes of my incensed colleagues on the front page threatened to provoke the frustration that simmered below the surface.

I thought back over the last few months. The incendiary placards plastering the newspapers, the data tossed innocently into the arena by politicians who seemed oblivious to the aftershocks, the gut wrenching withdrawals of care whilst army-speak like ‘imposition’, ‘nuclear options’ and ‘militancy’ were hurled back and forth through the clamour of authoritative voices. How did we ever get to this?

But that day, I found myself feeling strangely optimistic. And that optimism had been reignited by a chat with my consultant a few days before. As he proudly showed me the discharge summaries he had written over the strike days, he ended up asking about my career plans and gave me some advice for the future. It was a small touch, a single moment of kindness, of solidarity. But it left me feeling grounded and hopeful, and that lasted long after the moment passed.  

I won’t rehearse the grievances of the last few months; plenty of my colleagues have done so more eloquently than I ever could. But if there is one silver lining I’ve noticed, it’s this: the arms of our predecessors seem more firmly around our shoulders than ever before, whether it’s in person, through the press or over the twittersphere. A bit of encouragement, a thank you, a nudge in the right direction. I’ve never felt more supported and inspired by my seniors than I have since the dispute began.

It’s made me wonder if there lies one of the problems. Does the disillusion and disenchantment amongst junior doctors go deeper than the gripes over Saturday pay? Is there something else missing from our generation?

I don’t know what it was like to be a doctor 20 years ago. And I’m sure I wouldn’t like to find out. But I wonder if, as consequence of the 120 hour weeks and seeing more of the mess than their own homes, there was a thread of camaraderie, a sense of belonging, and a deep seated proclivity to nurture the juniors that tied over the gaps back then.  

Our hours are shorter. But has the intensity and nature of the work changed? Are we spending too much time behind computers, and less time forging real connections? To our consultants, we probably seem to come and go as quickly as the patients. And our six monthly formal supervisor meetings are usually spent huddled around a screen, trying to navigate through the endless tick boxes that inform the powers that be that we can move on. Are these missed opportunities to rekindle that regimental spirit?

Many of my junior doctor colleagues feel like small cogs in a complex system. A system many of us don’t really understand. And we’re not too sure where it’s heading. Or if we’re really adding much value. That doesn’t bode well for a system that’s propped up by the goodwill of its staff going the extra mile.

But the last few months have led me to believe that our seniors are key to shaking off that feeling of alienation. And when the dust finally settles, as it must, I hope that’s something we don’t forget. A little perspective, an occasional thank you, offering a Haribo after a long day. I hope as a GP, I’ll remember my three-year-old cousin.

He’s got it nailed. 

Dr Nishma Manek is a GP trainee in London. Dr Manek is raising money for the Butterfly Thyroid Cancer Trust by running three half marathons in three months. If you would like to donate, please visit www.justgiving.com/3halfs3months

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Vinci Ho

    A friend in need is a friend indeed.
    We probably did not realise how much we cared about our next generation(s) but it is particularly through adversity,which was created unnecessarily by politicians and bureaucrats , that we know the importance of unity and justice to ourselves .
    We know well about the social norms and virtues NHS should honour and reward and they are to be passed from generation to generation . Against those who want to destroy them for their own agenda , we will never stop fighting ........

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