By Rory Hammond
Core Surgical Trainee, London
To my slightly younger self,
First day on the job. You awake to a strange sensation in your stomach. It’s not the first or last time you’re going to feel that. Is it excitement or anxiety? It’ll take you a while to work that out. In the meantime, I have a few words of advice that might help keep you on track.
1. You are allowed to say 'no'
I know you’re keen to please and enthusiasm is important. However, you will see the value in focussing your commitment and seeing a project through to completion. It’s all too easy to say 'yes' and find yourself juggling multiple audits and commitments because you agree to help with them. But focussing your efforts on achievable goals, such as application deadlines, will give you clarity in the long term and will allow you to produce the best results. Saying no can be hard when you’re starting out, but it will pay dividends.
2. Things will move quickly but you don’t have to
Work to live. Don’t live to work. Working amongst colleagues at all different levels in surgery will teach you that everyone gets to the ‘end’ (of course this will differ for each individual) at different speeds. There is no rush to be the first to become a core trainee, registrar or consultant. If you slow down or deviate from that path, it’s not going to disadvantage you. There is a lot to be gained by taking time out of training to pursue your own commitments or to focus on family. Concentrating on your interests and passions will make the job more fulfilling. It’s something you’ll begin to appreciate.
3. Be fearless
If an opportunity arises, go for it. You will realise you have skills you didn’t think you had. I recommend you put yourself forward for teaching and apply for those representative roles – this is certainly something I wish I had done sooner.
4. Don’t fear the trauma meeting
At first it will be an intimidating space with heated debate. Yet somehow the more you hide, the more questions people will fire at you. I recommend reading up on the conditions and fracture types you’re presenting, even if it’s after a long night shift. It might save you a little embarrassment and help stave off any panic-induced cold sweats the night after. At least I won’t ever forget Kanavel’s signs…
5. Collaborate and talk about it
Inevitably you will find that you push yourself too hard at times. Should you run into trouble with clinical work or exams, speaking to someone who has done it before will give you a new perspective. They’ve probably made similar mistakes. Now you can learn to correct yours.
This is by no means an exhaustive list and I’m still learning how best to navigate.
In fact, I’m probably due a letter from my older self sometime soon…