How do junior house officers unwind from the daily slog of taking blood, inserting cannulas, putting fingers up bottoms and writing endless piles of discharge summaries?
Many of them drink, I guess. Some party and get up to all sorts of mischief. Others exercise, cry, or just sleep every hour God sends.
Me, I took a different path: I wrote a book on the side during FY1. Not most people’s idea of relaxation, granted, but with two young children at home, my prospects for partying, mischief and sleeping were already long down the pan anyway.
That said, there’s a fair chance that I’m certifiably mad for deciding to write a book during such a busy and stressful year.
But I’m still standing, and have taken a strong step towards my ideal career as a GP with interests in writing and medical education.
I’m naturally drawn to a specialty that offers so much flexibility and the chance to use my existing skills from my previous journalism career, rather than letting all that experience go to waste.
General practice also excites me because of the variety – one of the highlights of FY1 was getting a taster of several different specialties, so why not choose a career that covers them all at once?
My plan was to produce a complete guide to medical school, from the perspective of someone who’s just been there and done it themselves (and got top marks to show for it).
Out with the highfalutin academic waffle so prevalent in medical schools; in with the down-to-earth tips, coping strategies and practical advice for surviving a long and uniquely challenging degree.
It helped that mentally I’d already been writing it since before the start of final year. I’d gradually realised that so much of this advice existed in verbal form, passed down from year to year: what to expect from clinical placements, how to do well in OSCEs, which resources to use, and so on.
The ‘hidden curriculum’, if you like.
I’d realised that so much advice only existed in verbal form
Yet barely any of it had been written down, leaving each new batch of students to reinvent the wheel through trial, error and innumerable bollockings from angry consultants.
I fleshed out a proposal on my elective, glass of Mauritian rum in hand, pitched it to publishers during my first block of FY1 and had a contract signed before Christmas.
And so my first year as a junior doctor played out.
Daytimes: scurry around ward trying to look like I knew what I was doing, carry out tasks set by someone who does actually know what they’re doing, answer bleeps, make referrals, chase scans, update lists, talk to patients and their families.
Evenings: bath kids, read stories, eat dinner with wife, bash out two hours of book manuscript, draw cartoons, go to bed. Repeat on loop.
Okay, so it was often very far from relaxing, and weekends were a strain trying to balance writing and family time. But the pain was temporary: I submitted the manuscript within five months of signing the contract, survived FY1 with my marriage intact and have progressed seamlessly to FY2 (and added a third child to the gang).
The book came out in late August. It’s called Making a Medic: The Ultimate Guide to Medical School – it’s a labour of love and I am extremely proud of it. The hidden curriculum is now out in the open and I sincerely hope future generations of medical students will find it helpful, and medical school a little less painful as a result.
But then again, I once got bollocked by a consultant purely for having facial hair (not even the scruffy kind), so I daresay some amount of discomfort is unavoidable for students of our profession.
Writing a book during FY1 certainly wasn’t the easiest option, but now that it’s published I’m so pleased that I did it. It was less fun than drinking and partying, admittedly, but a darned sight more productive.
Dr David Brill is an FY2 in A&E at the Royal Free Hospital in London and aspiring GP. His book, Making a Medic: The Ultimate Guide to Medical School, is available from Amazon here.