It’s not often I read non-fiction as reading and writing fiction keeps my head above water and escape from the world, but when I heard about diaries written by fellow junior doctors in the wake of the junior doctors’ strikes of 2016, plus with me currently being on a gap year away from medicine, I wanted to see how others view this calling, warts and all. This book is suitable for both laymen (A.K.A. muggles A.K.A. non-medical folk), for Kay explains every medical terminology he uses in brief snippets, and medical personnel alike.
This review does not contain spoilers.
My background: I’m a junior doctor, graduate of 2015, who has completed my mandatory 2 years’ foundation training and I’m in the middle area between being deemed a competent junior and beginning my long journey up the specialty training ladder.
Adam Kay, the author, was an obstetrics and gynaecology (he calls it ‘Brats and Twats’ but I’m more familiar with ‘Obs and Bobs’) senior registrar who, after training almost to consultant level, decided to leave behind medicine forever for a combination of reasons.
Honestly? I love this book. Kay’s humour is spot on — a mixture of dark humour that comes with working in healthcare (a bit like gallows humour, grim enough to be reflective of reality and harsh enough for some muggles to be offended) and honesty of the wearying, self-sacrificial journey that is medicine. There were many sections in the book that were comedy gold, especially Kay’s reactions to idiocy or his explanation of medical terms. I chuckled. I rolled my eyes. I snorted. I mean, I steamed through this book in two days when working 9-6 shifts. The short entries make for quick, light reading and his humour is so intriguing I couldn’t put it down.
There were dark areas, too, of course. Being a doctor comes with more incidences of woes than joy, although the magnitude of the joys eventually does outweigh the woes. The eternal rota gaps; working more than the amount asked of a single human despite not getting that same amount in pay; losing out on weekends, anniversaries, important events; last-minute changes to personal plans because of work; burning yourself out because of your dedication to work — a ‘fuck it’ attitude can kill a patient, so we’d rather fuck ourselves over than a patient, and we’d choose that over and over again until we have nothing left to give, even if it meant we fall asleep behind the wheel and crash our cars, even if it meant our relationships disintegrate, even if we repeatedly break down into an emotional mess in grief for a patient we’d lost, because we prioritised many patients’ lives over our own. All of that was so relatable, so honest, so sincere.
And if, in the end, despite all our sacrifices (and we’re not asking for medals; no doctor goes into this career for renown or fame — we’re just asking for humane treatment and working conditions), when we inevitably make mistakes because we’re overstretched, underfunded, under-rested, underfed, dehydrated, and absolute exhausted, instead of the government recognising the flaws of the system and trying to fix it, we are the ones blamed, persecuted, heckled, struck off the register, losing our jobs, and faced with a manslaughter charge… well, what’s the point?
Kay walked away from his calling as a doctor after over a decade of training. Having read this book, I could see why and am tempted to do the same. Being a doctor is a privilege and honour and I wouldn’t trade anything for it, but surely there’s a better compromise than literally killing myself over it.
I wish I had read something like this before medical school so I knew what was in store for me. Chances are I wouldn’t have chosen this career. I have no regrets in being a doctor (far from it), but, just as we consent patients for procedures so they know the pros and cons, the reasoning for doing it, and exactly what they have signed up for, I wish I had been equally informed about my decision about medicine. Choosing to become a doctor was not my informed decision.