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Broaching the M word



dr richard cook duotone 3x2

I was taking a break from emergency winter planning last week to soak up a few raindrops in the back garden, when I was approached by my eldest daughter, looking pensive, which is something she must have learnt from her mother. This is the same daughter who it seems only 5 minutes ago was puking in to my lap as I changed her nappy, and is now knee deep in revision manuals and GCSE study guides.

She wanted to talk about the future – her own individual 5-year plan and the delivery of an effective learning regime to maximise her chances of achieving success at a strategic level. Ok, so I may have got that a bit mixed up with the cut and paste from my NHSE bullshit spam folder but I’m sure you get the gist.

She startled me by opening up with the C word. Chemistry. She was considering taking it for A level… a choice she had previously rejected. I have fond memories of Chemistry at school, particularly of when Mr Cave set his white coat on fire with a bunsen burner, refusing to listen to pleas from the front row offering him the fire extinguisher. Everyone survived without harm (except the white coat) but I digress, again. Because, despite my love of experiments, I was suddenly on my guard because I knew what was coming next, even more frightening than the C word.

The M word.

Not many of us would have knowingly agreed to the ardours of a house job

Don’t say it, just don’t say it.

The reason for Chemistry is not her fascination with graduated cylinders and condensers, it is far darker than that. It is the key to unlock the door to previously hidden careers, and the potential to consider Medicine as her future.

Where do you start? We have neither promoted nor discouraged medicine as a career for any of our children or friends’ children, but by keeping quiet and not having had any mention of it, she surprised me somewhat with her casual throwaway considerations. I have often considered what I might say in this situation, reflecting on my own medical training and subsequent ‘career’.

I remember being a final year student and still having absolutely no idea what working as a real doctor was actually going to entail. It transpires this was probably a good thing, because not many of us would have knowingly agreed to the ardours of a house job.

I think this is the crux of the issue and provides difficulty in giving the right advice. The idea of being a medic, giving your life to helping others and the privileged nature of the work, is highly laudable, and needs to be clung to. This however, must be separated from the reality of the job, with its rules, regulations, sheer volume of patients and general red tape that conspire to make each working day an obstacle course.

What to say then, to our future swearers of the oath?

Medicine as a profession has no equals.

The job of being a doctor? Well, it’s tough – but it helps if you’re a true medic.

Dr Richard Cook is a GP in west Sussex