Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

By Alexander Bell

“It’s like there’s a cloud that comes over you, and it just won’t leave.”

That’s the assessment my girlfriend once gave me of the periods where I’ve struggled with my mental health. From my perspective that analogy could not be more apt.

Times where I struggle with negative thoughts and emotions are like cloudy days. Of course, much like the overcast sky, these days don’t always look the same. On some days, there’s a smattering of light clouds: short periods of sadness or worry that quickly transform into blissful sunshine. Other days find only the occasional ray of short-lived sunshine poking through a heavily-veiled sky. Sometimes a morning shower can give way to a clear sky of blue, while on other occasions the bright sun of the morning can hide a lurking dreary afternoon. Very occasionally, the day is a storm: a thick band of dark, unrelenting grey that stretches as far as the eye can see. Sometimes, a storm will mark an aberration from an otherwise sunny week. Other times, I spend weeks wondering if the sky will ever be clear again.

Continue reading

Putting the “Me” back in “Medicine”

By Jessica Stark

Continuous learning, long hours, difficulty with work-life balance. At 18, I said I understood these were the challenges faced by doctors, but at 18, fresh out of school, I didn’t really comprehend what I was agreeing to. I thought it wasn’t that big of an issue, I thought the life of a doctor could only be fantastic. How naive I was. Now on the home stretch of my medical degree, I’m finally reflecting on what I signed up for.

Medicine wasn’t something I fell into. I worked hard at it, and had to make some tough decisions to get where I am today. My family and I sacrificed a lot, but it was all I wanted, and I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. I couldn’t contain my excitement when I got my offer to Monash. Though moving to a new city where I didn’t know a single person was certainly daunting, I wanted this career so much and moving away was just a sacrifice I had to make.

It was difficult; far more difficult that I thought it would be. I missed my friends and family back home enormously, and there were periods of time where I cried every day. The endless lectures, tutorials and histology pracs were often a drag, and I was in major struggle town with anatomy, but I knew it would get better once I entered the hospital. And it did. I relished being part of the team, speaking to the patients and scrubbing into theatre. It was just as I thought it would be, and after finally having contact with patients, I knew this career was for me.

As the years went on, I began to realise the competitiveness of medicine and that it was a bit of a cutthroat world getting into a specialty. It seems like you need at least a master’s degree and several publications, plus experience, to get onto several training programs. How is this meant to possible when you’re also working extensive hours as a junior doctor? How can you work more than full time, study part time, research part time and have a life outside of this? The answer – make sacrifices and work yourself into the ground. At least that’s how it seems to me when I look around at a lot of the junior doctors. I look at my friends who didn’t study medicine with their great work-life balance and I can’t help but be jealous. They don’t have to put their lives on hold for years, and they have far more freedom and time to do the things they want.

Whilst I was told a career in medicine meant long-term study and long hours, I didn’t understand that what they really meant was I was partly screwing over my own life to save other peoples. It’s not that I dislike the career; being in the hospital, helping the patients, coming home in the evening and knowing the difference you’ve made for even just one person is truly special and very rewarding. I feel extremely grateful for the opportunity to help people through difficult times in their life, but I do feel sad that it affects my life and my relationships in so many ways. I feel sad for all the sacrifices I’ve made, and all the ones I’m yet to make.

Only a few weeks into my first rotation of final year I experienced burnout. It seemed odd that after three months of holidays I could feel this way, but the prospect of job applications, getting references and paving a pathway towards a specialty training program, as well as the difficult transition back into clinical medicine after a year in a lab, was just too much. I was recently told by someone close to me that I’m no longer the same person I used to be, that my degree has changed me and the happy bubbly person I once was had disappeared. When and how did this happen? A conversation with my doctor made me realise that I hadn’t really stopped in a very long time. I’ve been studying hard since the beginning of high school and continued straight into med school. I’ve always been busy, juggling a job, committee roles, volunteer work and the responsibilities of living out of home. I have always placed immense pressure on myself, and now I’d reached a point where I couldn’t do it anymore. My doctor asked me to take a break and do something for myself, something I enjoyed doing, something not related to med. In all honesty, I didn’t know what that was, despite all the advice to keep up hobbies and have a life outside of medicine, I hadn’t, and over the course of my degree I’d lost myself along the way.

After two weeks of lying on the beach, catching up with old friends, going to galleries and plays, seeing new places in a city I’ve lived in for years – after two weeks of starting to live again, I don’t want to go back to “not living”. Whether that means actually taking time for myself regularly and not getting swallowed by the med monster again, or leaving the med bubble entirely, I’m not sure. It’s going to take some more time for me to figure out what the future holds, but just because I graduate as a doctor, doesn’t mean I’m bound to work as one forever. It won’t mean I’ve wasted my degree, or wasted my time, if I choose to pursue something else. I’ll have had some great experiences and learnt so much. My life is important too, and maybe I need to be a selfish and do what’s best for me.

 


 

Connection: the unsung cure

By Pravik Solanki and Susie Westbury

Dear reader, we live in strange times. We’ve been told countless times of the evils of sugar, the perils of experimenting with drugs, and the hazards of straying from the Mediterranean diet. But there’s an important warning that’s never a part of these conversations, something that has an even worse impact on mortality than obesity: loneliness and social isolation.(1)

Continue reading

Cures, curiosity, cash, control: searching for motivation in medicine

By Mozafer Rajabali

Perhaps one of the most important bedrocks of current-day ethics in medicine is the Hippocratic Oath, a series of ethical standards that clinicians have to swear by before they enter the workforce. Medicine by its very nature requires an ability by the clinician to enter into some of the most private realms of another individual on a regular basis. For myself, while I may have initially almost stumbled into medicine, what now appeals to me the most is the ability to care for another individual in a way that requires their ultimate trust. This is not to say that I seek to adopt paternalist attitudes towards those I interact with, but that I wish to be able to work with them in achieving the best possible goals. Here, I wish to point out some of the reasons why & how my motivations for medicine have evolved, and try to contextualise them in a more globally relevant setting.

Continue reading

A tribute to a palliative patient

By Priya Selvaraj

Laura glanced down at the next patient’s details. There wasn’t much to start with – she had never met this gentleman before, and we were just going to “drop by and check in on him”. We had taken a moment outside his house in the hospital car as she explained to me that the patient we were about to see was currently receiving palliative care for his cholangiocarcinoma. And that’s the extent of what we knew about him. As we stepped out of the car, a pleasantly dressed elderly man opened the door and waved us in. Introductions were made, pleasantries exchanged and we went in.

Continue reading

Do Better: On the pursuit of perfection

By Mary Crabtree

Do better. Be better. Think better. We are relentlessly slammed with this pressure to do and be and think better. It comes from inside our own heads, and from an illusion that medical students should be able to ‘handle it’. We are inflated by those fleeting moments of praise from a consultant or an inspiring patient encounter, but this feeling is too often swiftly replaced by an overwhelming sense of inadequacy.

Continue reading

To Embrace the Dying Light

By Victor Senthinathan
Honourable Mention, Writing Competition 2017

Prompt 2: Tell us about an encounter with a patient that has significantly shaped your understanding of medical practice or changed your worldview.

I always thought of hospitals as unpleasant places. It was a place where sick and dying people congregated, where white walls stretched out aimlessly and there was the ever-present promise of a registrar quizzing me on something I had just forgotten.

On this day however, my hospital seemed idyllic. It was the type of day where sunlight didn’t just stream into rooms, but cascaded off walls, golden glitter veiling the room. It was the type of day where every ward held smiling patients with easily identifiable differential diagnoses. It was the type of the day where your clinically appropriate shoes can’t help but skip into a room to find a patient for your case report. This is where I met Mary. I would be amiss as a medical student to not mention that the patient has been de-identified to maintain patient confidentiality.

Continue reading

Changing Climates and Curricula

By Cecilia Xu
Honourable Mention, Writing Competition 2017

Prompt 3: Describe an aspect of medical school or medical practice that we do poorly, and discuss how we could best remedy this.

In 2009, The Lancet published a landmark report declaring climate change to be the biggest global health threat of the 21st century (1). It was the first report published in a medical journal of this calibre to draw attention to the effects of climate change on human health, both now and into the future. These included water and food insecurity, extreme weather events such as heatwaves and floods, and increased burden from infectious, psychological, and cardiorespiratory diseases. In 2015, a follow-up report was released (2). Unfortunately, projected outcomes were even more severe than originally anticipated. We are now in the midst of a global health emergency.

Continue reading