Sometimes (more like all the time), I wonder whether I’m going to be a good doctor. I’m sure everyone in medical school has thought about this at some point. There’s the constant worry over whether you’re doing the right thing: do I know enough anatomy about the lower limb? How many procedures do I have to do to be excellent? Why isn’t my mindful eating of this chocolate bar working?!?! But sometimes that question can be a bit blunt and you find yourself asking ‘What if I’m not enough?’.
In a spiralling whirlwind of self-doubt, I often find myself thinking of all the reasons I wouldn’t make a good doctor. Sure, these begin with things like ‘I’ve forgotten the entire brachial plexus’ or ‘shoot, I should probably have most of my logbook signed off by this time of year’; but at the end of the day, it always comes back to one thought. How can I be a good doctor when I’m also a patient?
I’ve struggled with mental health issues for the past 7 years, and the stress of medicine most definitely does not help. I’ve seen counsellors and therapists and psychiatrists, tried medications, tried meditation and a heap of other things. After all that though, I’m still here. As a patient. It’s almost laughable how often I feel unqualified as a medical student – how am I supposed to look after other people when I can’t even look after myself? I’m meant to be learning how to help save lives, not contemplating whether my own is even worth living. Everyone expects me to arrive to hospital smiling and ready to engage myself in a wonderful learning opportunity yet some days, I can’t even get out of bed. Some days, I can’t bring myself to shower or eat. Other days, I make it to class but have panic attacks outside where nobody can see me. How can I be a good doctor, when I myself am plagued with a myriad of problems?
Trying to be a doctor, whilst struggling as a patient, is infuriating and heartbreaking and can make you want to give up altogether. But sometimes, there are moments where I am grateful for what I’ve been through. When you come across somebody with your condition, your understanding as a doctor becomes so much more credible. Not only do you understand the medical side of things, you understand what the patient is going through. Your sympathy becomes empathy. In some way, you feel more comfortable because you can relate to them. I remember first learning about mental health in preclinical years, and a simulated patient came in with ‘depression’. I could see the whole class looking at him with sad eyes, feeling sorry for him as he explained how he no longer enjoyed his hobbies and how everything took effort and seemed like a chore. As he continued to act, I wanted to nod along and say ‘I get it! I really do!’. I wanted to repeat the phrase ‘I understand things have been difficult for you’, but actually mean it this time because I did. I did understand! I was finally able to find an upside to my depression, and it was actually going to help me become a better doctor.
Being a patient and having a life-altering condition can seem like the most annoying and inconvenient thing at times. I wouldn’t wish ill health on anyone, but I guess once you’ve got it, flaunt it. Sometimes, it’s not such a terrible thing after all.
If you or someone you know, be it a friend or a colleague, have had a difficult time and wish to seek further help or assistance, you can call LifeLine Australia on 13 11 14, Suicide Callback Service on 1300 659 457, Victorian Doctor’s Health Program on 9495 6011 or visit beyondblue here and headspace here.