It’s grim oop NHS.
You can’t spend more than a few minutes looking at facebook or twitter on the topic of the NHS without people mentioning crises, battles or strikes.
You can’t look at a newspaper without seeing headlines about huge deficits, failing trusts, closing hospitals, doctor shortages, spiralling waiting times, implausible efficiency savings or politicians with their heads in the sand.
As a new batch of raw medical students climb onto the bottom rung of the career ladder, it’s hard for the more seasoned professionals to summon up much enthusiasm about what they have in store.
But there are some reasons to be cheerful.
- Your country needs you
The UK is short of doctors. It has fewer doctors per member of the population than most comparable countries, and that’s before you take into account the job vacancies that can’t currently be filled, and the disillusioned people apparently planning to walk away. And although they won’t admit there is a shortage of doctors, the government is so worried by this that they are talking about chaining new medical graduates to the NHS for four years after graduation. And it’s nice to be wanted, right?
- Your patients need you
An emergency department crammed with patients. Screaming babies, whining children, grey-faced adults, beeping monitors and alarms, and somewhere the sound of retching. It’s not a recipe for relaxation, but they all need your help and attention. And (see point 1) it’s nice to be wanted, right?
- Helping people
If you turn up at your medical school interview and say you’ve chosen medicine because you want to help people, you’re more likely to be met by rolling of eyes than by open arms. But most doctors choose medicine at least partly for this reason. It’s great to do a job that seems so unequivocally good, even if the government sometimes seems to be trying to get in the way. When did superman ever complain about having to battle against the forces of evil to help those in need?
- Governments and politics are temporary
Yes, it’s a pretty depressing time for the NHS. If you listen to people around you, you’ll hear talk of privatisation, of rationing, of cuts to services, of departments struggling to cope with the weight of demand. But governments change, and politics change. Meanwhile, the NHS has been around for 60 years, and in many ways is bigger, better and stronger than ever. Outcomes are still better than in many other health systems, and the vast majority of patients are receiving excellent care. The NHS will still be there when Theresa May is nothing more than a political memory.
- Medicine is a broad church
So you make it through medical school and discover that talking to patients drives you mad…don’t panic. You can always be a pathologist (only interact with dead patients, or removed bits of living ones), a radiologist (only interact with pictures of patients) or a microbiologist (only interact with microbes). If patients are your thing, you can sit and listen to them (psychiatry), drug them (medicine) feed wires, balloons and tubes into them (cardiology), put them to sleep (anaesthesia) or cut them up (surgery). If you leave medicine completely, you’ll find that those letters after your name stay with you, and banks, consulting firms, and pharma companies welcome you with open arms. What career could offer more options?
- Getting paid…just about enough
If you didn’t know that medicine pays less than other comparable professions, you didn’t do enough research before you applied. If that bothers you, you probably won’t be a doctor for long. Doctors’ salaries in the NHS aren’t huge, but they are enough. Whether that will remain the case as NHS costs are cut, while student fees are hiked, remains to be seen. In the meantime, before you moan, next time you’re at work in a hospital, look around you and you’ll see many people working just as hard, for less money.
- The NHS
Imagine telling a patient they have a treatable condition but there is no money to pay for their treatment. That’s a reality for many doctors, in many countries. It’s worth taking a step back and remembering that this was the case in the UK too, before 1948. And if you happen to be uninsured, it’s still the case in the US. But in the UK, despite what the Daily Mail may claim, this doesn’t really happen. If a treatment is proven to work, we can offer it even if the patient is penniless. It’s a privilege to practise medicine in this environment. Long may it continue.
- Transferable skills
More or less as soon as you put those magic letters after your name, the world is your oyster. Not literally – that would be slimy and unpleasant. But a qualified doctor can walk into a well-paid job in many many countries. If you find you’ve had enough of working in the UK, isn’t this a reason to be cheerful?
- Amazing science
All doctors have had that depressing conversation with a patient or their family. The diagnosis is clear, but nothing can be done. Those situations will always occur – people will never be immortal. But technology, drugs and our understanding of science are accelerating faster than ever before. Untreatable conditions are becoming treatable. If you’re starting your medical career now, who knows what advances you will see before you retire? It should be an amazing journey.
- The most interesting job in the world
There are days when every patient blurs together. But there are also days when people stand out. The former fighter pilot with an aneurysm and a remarkable world view. The priest with prostate cancer and a serene attitude to his illness. The dancer with a spinal tumour and a determination to live a normal life in the face of adversity. What other job would introduce you to such extraordinary people in such an intimate way? What other job would pay you to help the people who need it the most, at the most difficult time of their life?
I wouldn’t trade my job for any other, and that is certainly a reason to be cheerful.
If you find this post overly optimistic, please try Abrainia’s reasons not to be cheerful!
Follow Abrainia via WordPress (left hand menu) or on twitter (@abrainia)