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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.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

25 and still revising

I am cross.

I never get cross.

But I am 25 years old.  It is a beautiful Spring day outside.  Where am I, and what am I doing? I am revising.  Again.  This concept has raised a bit of confusion for various people, quite understandably, and is often backed up by the question; 'so, when do you actually qualify?'.  Mate, I'm qualified.  It says 'Doctor' on my badge.  That doesn't mean it's over.

But apart from just getting these post-grad exams out of the way, I've timed it to hopefully aid my transition back into clinical medicine after four glorious months in the lab.  Monday and Tuesday will be the last with my beloved spheroids, and then, boom, Wednesday I'm back to hospital with a bump on night shifts.  Nothing like easing back in gently, is there?

It's been a funny couple of weeks of not being very well (I'll save that for another post) which has also made all motivation for revision go out of the window.  It's been a potent reminder that while I bulldoze my way through work and study and the rest, I haven't really left a lot of slack in the system for when the wheels fall off.  Henceforth, I shall try to embrace the terror of night shifts, give this two-day exam-a-thon a high five (and hope it high five-s back) and then leave some space for some serious 'me' time.

After all, all that's really at stake for this exam is pride and £500.  

Saturday, 15 March 2014

The trouble with money is...

We British find it very difficult to talk about money.  Those who have lots are content enough to go on spending it.  Those who have little want more.  Those who have some feel bad about it.

This week the government announced a 1% pay rise for public sector workers.  Of course, with inflation, this is actually a pay cut.  EvidenceUK cite a nearly £5000 pay cut in real terms for junior doctors since the coalition came to power, and Unison claims that most NHS staff are 10% worse off over the same time course.  Throw into that the pensions reforms and other joyous interventions like the loss of free accommodation for junior doctors, and you've got yourself one disgruntled workforce.

I think it's quite difficult for junior doctors like myself to know how they feel about this.  Without wanting to seem like I'm polishing my halo, I am not in this for the money.  Frankly, there are easier ways to do that, I would imagine.  You accept the long hours.  You expect to do free overtime.  You forgive getting your rota so late that you can't plan beyond the next fortnight.  You see quality improvement, auditing and the rest as part of the job, even if that means lots of work beyond the 9-5. That's the deal, right?

I'm also obviously very conscious that I'm lucky to have a job at all.  At the end of university I went straight into a hospital job, which will be a two-year post lasting until this August.  After six years at university, where most of my non-medical peers are used to knowing how much is a 'normal' salary, it's simply quite exciting to have a salary at all.  I have funding for a research year next year, but I'm fairly sure I could have found a job of some sort or other if I'd been stuck.  I talk to my colleagues from overseas in my lab, and think how lucky we actually are with our working hours.  Ok, so I have to do 12 days in a row, or 13-hour night shifts for a week, or whatever.  But I don't have to do 24-hour on calls as a junior, like in the 'bad-old-days' (although I know some of my colleagues elsewhere in the UK do).

But some people counter this with - um, yes, six years at university.  That was a long time to pay for everything on borrowed pennies, and that was before £9000 tuition fees.  My much-loved but haggard old car (called Poppy, for anyone who's interested) that I bought to get me to my placements from third year onwards was a financial drain in it(her)self.  In this academic year I will have spent £1000 on postgrad exams alone.  In my first job as a doctor, I had my first near-miss accident in my car driving home from a night shift, because my job was a 45 minute drive away from the city (where all my other jobs were subsequent to this), and to get hospital accommodation would have essentially meant paying rent twice.

But frankly, so what?  Lots of people have to work long hours, pay for exams, commute, move house, study for a long time, etc etc etc.  I grew up in a family of teachers.  I know what all of that looks like.  And I love the NHS! Watch this if you want a reminder of what we stand to lose without free, accessible healthcare.

How do you balance all of these?  I really don't know.  I certainly don't feel I'm 'owed' something by society or the government just because I studied for a really long time.  I don't feel I should be immune to the cuts necessary in times of financial austerity.  But equally I feel like an easy target.

I expect a barrage of everything from 'how can you not stand up for your fellow doctors' to 'how dare you expect to be paid so much in a caring profession'.  I am very much still counting the pennies.  And contrary to popular belief, I still hunt down a good bargain at Tescos (other supermarkets are available).  But when it comes to money, it's all just a bit awkward, isn't it?