Communication and leadership are the skills it takes to become a doctor. But you need to be extremely dedicated as it’s very hard work, explains Dr Felicity. She reveals what it’s actually like to work in medicine.
Name: Dr Felicity
Industry: Medicine & Healthcare
What is your job? Hospital doctor
How long have you been doing this job? 4.5 years
University: University of Leeds
Degree Subject: Medicine
Qualifications: A-levels in art, biology, chemistry and psychology.
1. What was your very first job?
My first job was as a waitress/cleaner in a residential home for old people, for £3.60 an hour. That was when I was 15.
2. What did you want to do when you were at school?
When I was at school I changed my mind all the time. I wanted to be an artist for a while, I wanted to go to art school in Italy and eventually be a psychologist. That’s why I started studying psychology at uni.
3. How did you find out about the industry?
I grew up in a medical family – my dad’s a doctor and my mum’s a nurse. His dad is a doctor, his dad is a doctor, etc, which is quite common for medics. When I was studying psychology my mum was in hospital and I was watching a lot of Scrubs. I said to my mum, "I wonder what kind of doctor I'd make?" She really pounced on the idea.
4. How did you get there?
After I decided to quit the psychology degree, I went to do chemistry at A-level in Manchester because art is not looked very kindly on when you’re applying for any science-based degree. You need chemistry. I worked in a hospice as a volunteer. I’d already done various volunteering when I was backpacking in the year after I quit psychology. I taught English in India and looked after disabled children in Guatemala.
I wrote a personal statement to apply for the medical degree. You need a good reason why you want to be a doctor, not just “I want to help people”, because that’s just not enough. Mine was based around the fact that I wanted to do something science-based and people-related, and that I was inquisitive and always wanted to know why and how things worked.
During my medical degree I worked as a nursing assistant in a psychiatric hospital.
5. What is a typical day like?
I work in the emergency department of a hospital. My days will vary quite a lot. It will involve a handover in the morning of the patients who are in the department.
Then I’ll pick up new patients, which involves having a chat with them about what’s been going on, examining them, thinking about what might be wrong with them and ordering different tests. I’ll wait for the tests to come back and then interpret the tests, it might be blood tests or x-rays, and then deciding on the treatment needed. I’ll decide if they can go home with some medication, maybe they can be followed up by the GP, making sure they’re safe if they go home.
It’s a stressful environment. At one time I’ll have 3 or 4 patients on the go, and they have to be out of the department in a certain time period. Working as a GP is similar but you don’t have immediate access to as many tests and your patients aren't as unwell.
I deal with a variety of people – patients, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers, other doctors, sometimes radiologists and even the police. It’s a broad spectrum of different jobs within healthcare.
As a junior doctor something that takes up a huge part of your day is writing letters to people’s GPs to let them know what’s going on with the patient. There’s a lot of paperwork involved in being a junior doctor, especially on the wards. You sometimes feel like a glorified secretary when you first start out on the wards. That’s why I prefer working in the emergency department because you’re doing more hands-on medicine and making people better, for example doing plaster casts, fixing broken bones, or resuscitating someone who's really ill. The good things are when you really fix someone and you can see results quickly.
6. What’s the best thing about your job?
The variety is really good. Sometimes I’ll have a chilled day when it’s not super busy and I’ll be able to do some of those fun things that I mentioned and there will be less time pressure.
As a doctor you’re constantly being challenged and you’re always learning.
Sometimes patients are grateful for the hard work you put in so that’s always nice. I like the feeling that I’ve achieved something, I feel proud of myself for having gotten a medical degree and proud to be doing a worthwhile job.
7. What is the most challenging thing about your job?
Hospitals are stressful environment to work in, they’re not pleasant. It’s time-pressured. Everyone is busy and stressed because they have to keep multiple people healthy and alive. It’s difficult to not let the pressure of what you’re doing make it an unpleasant environment to work in.
When things don't go well and someone dies that can be very hard to deal with.
8. What advice do you have for people who want to do what you do?
When it comes to demonstrating your skills and experience in the medicine degree application, communication skills are a really big deal. Anything related to communication skills is going to win you points if you want to be a doctor.
The qualities of a doctor are you need to be good at communicating and leading. You need to be honest, hardworking and dedicated, so anything that’s going to give you those key skills [in work experience or through volunteering] is what’s going to help get you into medicine – more than necessarily something strictly healthcare-related. Teamwork and time management are also really important.
9. What things do you wish you’d known before starting your career?
I wish I’d appreciated the fact than being a doctor is more than just a job, it’s a whole lifestyle. It’s hard not to let it take over and direct your whole life.
Medicine is not a five-year degree. It’s 15 years’ worth of training. Training is extremely competitive. And it is hard. It’s a completely life-taking-over job choice. It makes it very difficult to settle down and have a family, very difficult to have a social life. It can be done, but I think you need to be quite a type-A personality so super-organised. You need to love what you do and be very passionate.
10. Where would you like to be in 5 years?
I’m considering making the move to wilderness medicine. I would like to go on expeditions into the jungle, mountains, diving, into remote areas where people are doing research and go along as the doctor who looks after them.