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Wilkommen to my blog - my name is Karin Purshouse, and I'm a doctor in the UK. If you're looking for ramblings on life as a junior doctor, my attempts to dual-moonlight as a scientist and balancing all that madness with a life, you've come to the right place. I'm currently a doctor/research trainee in oncology after spending a year doing research in the USA. All original content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Not a failure, just human

Feeling stressed? Run down? A little bit blue?
Well, that's the deal, isn't it? Part and parcel of life, and if you want to be a doctor, you'll find a way to cope.

This is what I think most of us feel like at regular phases of our time at medical school.  Now, I'm not trying to suggest we're special or unique in this - clearly other jobs are also stressful and leave you struggling to cope.  It just seems ironic to me that given what we're training to do, we're not so hot on a bit of introspection and admitting that we're not coping.  Great at dishing out the advice, not so much listening to it ourselves.

Last year I went to a Medsin conference entitled 'The Good, the Bad and the Mad', and found myself feeling quite choked by a talk given about mental health and medical professionals.  Because I felt that they were talking about me.  

I'll share a little of a particular year of my training in hopes that you won't make the same mistakes I did.  In a nutshell, I was doing too much.  Every day was a jogging match between university and my other commitments.  Meals were had on public transport, if at all.  I lost about a stone in weight.  Everyone told me I looked terrible, but I was so panicked I would fail at keeping up that I couldn't get out of the cycle.  Tears were shed at the slightest aggravation, and fun activities were approached with a degree of guilt.  Were it not for the insanely supportive people I had in my life, well; to be honest, I don't know what I'd have done.  It was probably the most frightening phase of my life.  And what's awful is, because ultimately I 'survived' (I don't mean to sound dramatic, but it's honestly what it felt like) and the year in broad terms was a successful one, it is easy to think it was all worth it.

Fear of failure is both a powerful motivator and a dangerous weapon.  It's ultimately at the heart of why many say medics are particularly terrible at confessing any weakness or difficulty.  This is where the problem lies - we have to get away from feeling like we've failed - if anything, we've triumphed in the art of reflection!  I'm more alarmed by the idea that doctors hide away from these issues, as if they don't happen.  Well, last time I checked, we're humans, not robots.

A few months on, and I'm fine, but it's certainly changed my perspective on things.  I sent my gran's Christmas card a whole week early for once.  Cooking is now a priority and a joy - (I swear revision doubles your food requirements or something).  I've learned to say 'No' (although I can't deny that there's still a little guilt involved).  But probably most importantly I've realised that no man is an island.  I will forever be grateful to the people that got me through that year.  We are each other's support network; let's embrace it, and be thankful for it.

Monday, 16 April 2012

An exercise in listening

I sometimes think that the BT advert that tells us 'it's good to talk' could have been dreamt up by someone who had been spying on me, and was trying to make me feel better about the fact that I talk.  A lot.

And this weekend, I was reminded again why I need to stop talking.  Apart from the fact that there is no real filter between what I'm thinking about and what I subsequently say (and therefore absolutely no quality control!), I listened to so many excellent things this weekend that I hereby promise to make my life more of an exercise in listening.  

This weekend I was at the BMA's Medical Students Conference in Nottingham - medical students from all over the UK spending two days debating motions on issues as diverse as binge drinking to the current oversubscription situation for foundation jobs, student finance to research databases, academic training to supporting charitable work.  The stand-out speeches for me were always the first time speakers.  I went to my first conference three years ago and I was T-E-R-R-I-F-I-E-D - nothing gives you palpitations like the first time you face the crowd.  It was exciting to hear about what novel issues people had identified, what ideas people had for tackling them and then hearing them be debated with such eloquence.  Great news - the motion in support of Open Access to research passed!

Medicine is always seen as a competitive kind of area to work in, but at the conference, it warmed my heart to see that friendship and camaraderie are not dead.  Perhaps people criticise us young 'uns for being full of wishful thinking, big ideas and a distinct absence of cynicism, but I am delighted to embrace this label. I love that we can come to the table with such different ideas, haggle it out and still leave as friends. 

Shall we dance?
But such haggling only comes with a predominant dose of listening, and I am hereby making it my halfway-through-April resolution to frankly pipe down.  Quantic and Alice Russell are making this endeavour significantly easier at the present time.  Hurrah for music! And for friends - meeting people like those at the conference this weekend is probably my favourite thing ever. 

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Well Done Wellcome!

Having just returned from a family Easter trip, I've had plenty of time over the last few days to think about Open Access to research.  Then the Wellcome Trust absolutely leads the way and decides that all its research will be accessible to everyone.  During my year in London last year, I used to walk past that building almost everyday - how exciting that a body as eminent as the Wellcome Trust has taken such a massive leap step.

I know I've rabbited on about Open Access before, but the book I've nearly finished reading has given me renewed reason to reiterate its importance.  If anyone else has ever read 'A Short History of Nearly Everything' by Bill Bryson, perhaps you'll agree that an overriding theme that comes across is that science and discovery is as much about communication as it is about the actual thing that has been identified.  Discoveries have laid dormant for years, decades even, because the researcher wasn't a very nice person, or didn't explain it very well, or simply picked the wrong medium through which to tell the world.  The first of these - well, a good friend of mine once said that he made it his mission to always be nice to everyone, because you never know under what circumstances you may meet again (the medical world in particular is a frighteningly small place - plus, it's nice to be important but it's far more important to be nice!).  The second - let's hope all those communication skills we learn at medical school extend to the written word.  And as for the last - at least now we have things like conferences and Pubmed to spread the message, regardless of where the information is originally shared.  I suppose what I'm saying is - these things are all still issues now, perhaps (hopefully?) to a lesser degree than they were before.  What is truly laughable is the idea that having overcome all of those challenges (as well as the discovery itself), the greater population can't actually read anything about what you've done.  Imagine if Einstein's Theory of Relativity had been approached in this way?

We need universities to start opening the doors and saying YES to making the research they publish accessible to all.  Will they start being left behind if groups like the Wellcome Trust make their studies accessible?  Ultimately research is just one idea following another - ideas tend to flow more smoothly if you can have full access to the preceding ones.  
'Knuckling down'
It's just my luck that just as I have to really knuckle down to some finals revision that I want to jump up and down about Open Access instead.  Really excited about pushing forward with the great work being done by the Right to Research Coalition over the summer to get the message out to the UK's medical schools.  Watch this space!