I’m really struggling with my PhD, and not for any of the reasons I was expecting. (I mean those are all there: time pressures’ recruitment; really, really just wanting to have a day off…). I’m struggling because I suddenly get access to people’s lives when I’m not a doctor, and it is making me question everything about my doctoring.
I’ve always liked listening to people: it’s the best part of my day, and the part I miss most about no longer being a medical student. I know that whatever I hear as a doctor is going to be restricted by so many things: time, fear, power. Despite all this, families let you have access into their lives in a way that I don’t think you get outside of healthcare. It’s what makes working in health such an enormous privilege; it’s why this is the most amazing job in the world; and I love it.
I’ve always *known* that all families are going to share is the tiny bit of their lives (and the why of that is complicated. and not what I wanted to talk about here). But I was arrogant enough to think that we, as a group of healthcare professionals, were a group that families would share things with.
Oh, I was so wrong. My PhD involves me listening to families real lives in a way that I can never do as a Dr; trying to understand how they work with the health services to live at home. The way people talk to me in research mode is completely different to how they talk to me when I’m wearing a stethoscope, and we’re in hospital. (Stating the blindingly obvious here…) I *know* that people are real people, at home (not in clinic or hospital), living… And I *know* that healthcare professionals are notorious for not really understanding this. I just wasn’t expecting the gulf to be so huge.
What’s really getting to me is that nobody expects the Dr side of me to “get it”. Families expectations of their care is that we haven’t got a clue, and they don’t expect us to.
But why should I? Why on earth should I be able to get this insight into people’s lives just because they happen to be sick? Does it help? Is there anything I can do about it anyway?
This is not the medicine I thought I was practising. This is not why I wanted to be a doctor. I was quite happy in my little Dr bubble which said that as long as I “did” the communication skills, and practiced my active listening, then I could be the good Dr that understood just a little bit. And one day, I thought, I could make a difference. Maybe I could listen to how people were managing; maybe I could do something about it. And I can’t.
And a huge, huge part of me just wants to block it off. To say that “that’s just the way it is”; that I’ve over-analysing what I’m hearing… Because I don’t know why I’m a doctor if I can’t even listen to people