Why medicine isn’t like the driving test…

I failed my driving test the first time around.  It was 13 years ago, but I remember that day vividly.  Getting stuck in a traffic jam on a hill (repeated hill starts); being taken on the country road that absolutely petrified me (and insisting on driving at a comfortable 40m.p.h rather than the 60 that everyone else was doing); and the overwhelming sense throughout the whole thing that I was going to fail, that I couldn’t do it, that I couldn’t change anything about it.  I remember coming home, and the following morning, still wanting to through something through the window.  (A pyrex pepper pot, by the way.  My mother removed it from my hand, and made me a bowl of pasta…)

And I remember the second attempt a few months afterwards, where I passed.  It wasn’t a perfect run by any means: my 3-point turn became a 9-point turn; I abandoned my reverse park the first time, and had to pull out and start again; the emergency stop was a genuine stop because I hadn’t realised that the examiner would do that on the approach to a junction….  But I passed, and I was elated.

On neither of these attempts was I allowed to drive home.

Apparently, the emotional upheaval of sitting the driving test is so enormous that my instructor didn’t allow her students to drive afterwards, whether they’d passed or failed.  (This wasn’t just me being 18 and emotionally crumbly: a quick look on internet fora suggests this is quite common).  It makes sense: passing your driving test is a fairly major life event.  I wouldn’t have been safe on the roads after that!  Having to go back and do something that you know you’ve just failed to do is difficult because your confidence in your abilities has taken a massive hit; passing makes you confident, over-confident maybe.  Either way, mistakes happen. So, having a break to reflect and re-group before getting behind the wheel again makes sense.

Medicine doesn’t work like that: regardless of what happens, we still have to keep going.  I’m not 18 anymore, I’m (probably) not as volatile: but I don’t just sit a driving test anymore.  Work just isn’t like that: you can genuinely see life & death within moments of each other.  And at each point, you just have to keep going and do the best that you can.  I don’t mean the technical skills: although doing that is hard enough.  I mean the bits that count: explaining to families what’s going on; talking about stopping; knowing that we’ve done what we can, and it hasn’t been enough.  And then turning around and giving another family good news.

And being a brilliant health care professional is about doing it honestly.  The most amazing thing I’ve seen in the past few weeks is watching my absolutely fantastic team share the pain of losing a patient, and supporting their family; and then coming back and sharing the joy of the baby steps of progress for another family.  And they’ve been absolutely genuine whilst doing it.  Seeing the looks on their faces when they come into the coffee room; when they’re on their way home.  It’s exhausting, and draining.

Doing that is hard: it takes a huge chunk of emotional resilience.  Doing it whilst also leading a team, and allowing them to see that you’re vulnerable is astonishing, and I’m very lucky to work with seniors that I can look at and think “if I can be that for my families in the future, then I’ll be doing my job”.

But in order to do that, then we/I need to also care for myself.  It’s why I’ve missed being part of a team so much the past few months: we look out for each other.  That’s not selfish: it’s making sure that our families get the care that they deserve, and that we can give it to them for the duration of our careers.  Maybe that’s a sensible New Year’s resolution?

I know this is a rambling post, but I’m not sure this is something I can think of in a more detached way.  I don’t know what I’m doing with my career path really.  I hate the “where do you see yourself in 5 years time?” scenario.  One thing I know: if I can be that doctor for the families that I care for; if in 10 or 15 years time I can be that leader for my team, then everything else is just extra.


One thought on “Why medicine isn’t like the driving test…

  1. Reblogged this on Presto Medico and commented:
    This is well put – a physician not only needs to be able to master and have access to academic knowledge, but also needs to be able to master and have instant access to emotional awareness. Without either, you run into problems. Both academic and emotions drain a person out – it’s all about being able to recover as soon as possible and trying to not let work get in the way of family life.

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