What’s Your Hobby? Conferencing?!

Many say that a life in medicine is a way of life rather than a career. However, like any successful career, you get out of it what you put in to it. It just so happens that medicine is one of the few careers that requires more than just 9-5 education.

Throughout life people will tell you to get a hobby, go outside, meet new people and do something new and different. Without these things life gets boring and you will burnout.

So how to do these things when you have little money, little spare time yet you want to feel like accomplishing something?

I go to conferences.

Yes it sounds dull and boring. Yet I have had some of the best times at these events. As a medical student, every doctor wants you in their speciality. So in order to grab your attention, many put on lecture-light, hands on workshops-heavy conferences.

In October, a group of us ventured to Swansea for a cardiology conference aimed specifically at medical students. While the first day required some attention – all lectures- most of the lecturers were engaging and not simply trying to out do each other. The second day encompassed cardiac suturing, ECG and case studies workshops, aortic valve replacement and emergency treatment of acute cardiac patients. I mean come on, which med students wouldn’t want to try some of those things. Also, a certificate for those vitally important portfolios(!).

This weekend just gone, a similar group of us travelled to Sheffield for a surgical conference organised by the Royal College of Surgery of Edinburgh. 3 brief lectures, each individually captivating and eye-opening. One looking at the life of a cardiac surgeon, one on military surgery and the difference between the careers and the final talk on breast cancer from a patients point-of-view, the patient happening to be a consultant breast cancer surgeon.

The workshops were picked before arriving. My choices were:

  • Cricothyroidotomy – emergency airway management and surgery to enable a patent airway
  • Sebaceous Cyst Excision – Using porcine tissue, we excised a fig (acting as a lipoma) and a cod liver oil tablet (sebaceous cyst) from the tissue and sutured it up.
  • Laparoscopy – practise key-hole surgery (using the tools and camera to move around objects and perform motor tasks with the equipment. Somehow ended up winning a certificate for best laparoscopic technique at the conference, which considering I’m a 1st year student surrounded by attendees ranging from 1st year students to 2nd year core trainees, i’m quite proud.

Conferences are great. As a student they’re cheap to attend, you network with consultants at the top of their fields, you meet other students from other universities and if you have research, you can present with prizes given for the best presentations. While it still feels work related, a change of scenery and personnel can do a world of good.

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Mental Health and Med School

Be under no illusion, regardless of whether you are doing a 4 year graduate entry medical course or a 5/6 year undergraduate course, there will be times you will struggle.

Mental health issues in the general population are common, 1 in 6 people will have an episode of depression in their lives. In the medical school setting, the incidence of mental health issues in medical students increases 2-5 fold (Rotenstein et al., 2016) and with it the thought of suicidal ideation.

I, personally, have suffered with chronic severe depression for 7 years. At first it was thought it was just a ‘teenage hypersensitivity’ to the world. As time went on, nothing in my environment changed and depression took a hold of my life and well-being. There have been tough times and there have been straight up thoughts of ending it all. This is not meant to be a sob story. The statistics say it all, I am not alone, you are not alone.

My situation at home has never been great on a psychological scale. It’s left scars which have taken years to even start to heal.

In 2014, enough was enough. If it wasn’t for a very close friend (thank you) it might have ended very different. I got help, antidepressants (ADs), counselling, CBT. It got better, not happy, just content. A weight had been lifted and life could continue. I remained with counselling and ADs (many different ones until one worked) until graduation.

Now I find myself somewhere new. New people, new location, new house, and while change is great, when you have help set up in one place having to start it all over again is tough. 1 month after starting med school I was back on ADs, even now, 5 months later, I’m still struggling. All the structure is gone and I’m having to start again. Doctors talk about burnout, in medical school, some will burnout once a year, others once every few months, some every month and some every week. It’s February 2017, and my burnout count is sitting nicely at 4.

Life as a med student is tough at the best of times. When there’s barely enough time eat, you can see why it can get so difficult to get help, but please do! It’s nothing to be a shamed of, and will make you a better doctor, friend, husband, wife and person in the long run. Because believe me, there is a long run.

Welcome to…something

Ok, yeah, I get it. Another medical blogger showing off to the world their incredible lives. I could try and pretend this is some amazing life changing blog which will stand out over all others but realistically it is not. So what is it?

It’s a chance to talk. Every medical student will tell you how amazing the course is, how incredible it is to make a difference, blah blah blah. Yes it is fantastic to have to chance to do something that one day may make a difference but that is not why I’m here.

I’m here to talk about the real tribulations of medical school. The isolation, the burnout and the subsequent breakdowns.

I am a biomedical science graduate who always had aspirations of becoming a doctor. In Sept 2016, I took my first step forward and started graduate medical school. Doing a 5 year degree in 4 years can’t be that bad surely.

6 months later, here I am. Documenting what has been and hopefully what will be one day, the career I’ve dreamt of for decades.

So strap yourself in, it’s gonna be a bumpy journey!