Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Black Wednesday

Four years ago this month, I started this blog and made my first post where I projected the end point of this blog - and now I am here, and this is it.

I realise it's been almost a year since I last posted, so I think some updates are necessary: I passed my medical school finals in June 2016 (on the first attempt thankfully!). I graduated medical school in July. I am now on the LRMP. I completed my pre-work shadowing this week. I am starting as a Foundation Year 1 doctor tomorrow, something I never thought I'd be able to become 9 years ago when I received a less-than-stellar chemistry AS level grade which put medical school (temporarily) out of my reach. Something which seemed to be an impossible dream during the first two years of my degree when I was struggling to break out of a 2:2 average and mentally blocked; unable to move on from the blow to my self-confidence which had occurred following the first big disappointment of my academic life, after many years of getting top marks with minimal effort (those bloody AS levels).

Oh Warwick. I never went to your open day - I applied merely on the basis that my UKCAT was high enough to almost guarantee an interview. I'd never set foot in the West Midlands until my interview day 4.5 years ago. I certainly remember my gut feeling on my interview day being that I really liked it here and would be very happy indeed with an offer (and my blog post from that day attests to that). I never found out who my interviewer was, just a guy who was happy to let me go off topic and confess that the Kinks were great music to unwind to and made me happy. I hoped he was a member of the regular staff who I'd meet in a lecture or on placement, and we might laugh about it, but apparently not.

But in all honesty, Warwick wasn't my first choice deep down. London, my hometown, was where I wanted to stay. But without a GEP offer, London's 5 year offer was financially out of reach, and I didn't want to spend an extra year being a student anyway. So I came here, very happy and extremely grateful, and not at all regretful, but still cautious and slightly nervous about leaving a city where I'd lived for most of my life.

Those first few weeks in September 2012 are now so hazy - community placements, clinical skills practice with classmates in our group study rooms: "first inspect from the end of the bed" (actually two desks laid together). Random memories: how different campus looked in 2012 compared to today, the songs at my first Medics' Revue, the diagnosis of the patient we were taken to see on our first half-day on the wards at the start of our second term in January 2013 etc. It was all very different to London, but I still really liked it here - there were lots of new places to see and explore, so I was confident I'd made the right choice in coming here.

Starting clinical placements in February 2014 unfortunately clashed with a perfect storm of personal problems: relationship difficulties, financial stresses, and health worries, culminating in a sense of chronic frustration with my perceived failures as a young adult. Unfortunately my medical school was caught in the crossfire of this. These problems would have likely happened at any other place, as they are just part of life and getting older - but for well over a year I struggled with these issues (often by myself without telling anyone), and the rigmarole and bureaucracy associated with placement made it quite easy to misdirect the stress from my personal life to simply hating my medical school and thinking "this just wouldn't have happened if I hadn't come here".

It was only until I went away on elective in March 2015, to another part of the UK and saw first hand that medical schools and medical students are basically the same everywhere, that I understood that Warwick wasn't the issue.

When I was preparing for finals I did thousands of online MCQs, and I realised very early on that the answer I went for the first time was almost always correct compared with if I went back, re-assessed the question, and changed my reply. When it comes to MCQs, I am not someone who should second guess myself - I need to trust my gut instinct.

And so it goes with Warwick, who I now know I was right about in Feb 2012. When I visited for my interview day and felt comfortable and could see myself here, that was gut instinct. And when I got back from elective, feeling in a much better place, I was able to reconnect with that initial feeling I had about the place.

Because of this, the latter half of my third year and my entire final year have been some of the happiest times of my life. I began to feel much calmer and relaxed as a person, my friendships developed and deepened (probably why I felt the need to vent here less), and most importantly, once I felt comfortable and happy with the place I was in, I quite suddenly felt a lot more confident as a medical student. Certainly I still had wobbles and days when I'd come home from placement and feel like an absolute imposter, but these days became more and more infrequent, such that in the run up to Finals, I remember feeling calmer and more ready than before any other exams I'd taken in my life - even though this was the most important one. I finished with the highest results I'd gained at any point in my eight year university career, a result I am genuinely really proud of and happy with. So in short, I am very glad that my med school application brought me here, and if I could go back 4.5 years and change things, I wouldn't.

My one wish for this coming year, which I write 7 hours before I get up for my first day as an FY1 is that I don't become jaded or cynical about this job and the people I meet and care for. I don't care if I feel stupid or thick or if I'm not good at doing cannulae. Those things can change and will improve with time. But the hospital can be such a stressful place, and life itself is stressful anyway - I just don't want my job which I've worked so hard for, to become caught in the crossfire, like medical school was for a year or so. The difference is that having already gone through that period of maturation and self-awareness in medical school, I will recognise the warning signs and not let it happen to me as a doctor.

I remain optimistic that this job, and the art and science that I have been fortunate enough to be trained in will continue to be a hugely significant and positive part of my identity and personality. I think back to my ten year old self, deciding in a simultaneously precocious and naive way that this job would be something fun and fulfilling to do as a grown up, and I think that I have done right by him. That makes me feel like I've arrived where I want to be, so I'm going to try my very best to enjoy it for as long as I am able to.