Having gone through 6 years of Otago Medical School and working in a NZ hospital for 2 years now, here are 10 things that I reckon you should know before you decide to become a doctor.
1. 6 years is a long, long time
- It was a very, very long time for me. By the end of medical school, all of my friends were medical students. The rest have already started working and doing things that they like. Often, I asked myself “When will it be my turn?”
- Post grad students have it longer- 2-3 years of degree on top of 6 years in medical school. It is not uncommon to see mom or dad with 5 children going through medical school!
2. Forever studying…
- 6 years of study in medical school, THEN
- 2 years of study as intern doctor to pass your internship, THEN
- 5 years + of study as a registrar for specialty exams, THEN
- Thanks to the ever-changing field of medicine- you still have to study to keep yourself up to date for the rest of your life
- Some people enjoy studying for eternity but some don’t. Do you?
3. Interpersonal and communication skills = IMPORTANT
- This may seem obvious but this is something I overlooked in medical school. You talk to patients and families A LOT.
- I remember during one my night shift- I was bloody exhausted but this sick patient died, so I had to inform his family member. I thought it will be a piece of cake as he was in hospital, sick for months and family should “expect” his death. But I was terribly wrong. I blatantly told the family over the phone- “Mr. X died”. All I could hear after that was long hysterical screams, anger, confusion and frustration. I was speechless. I had know idea what to say next.
- These moments make you feel helpless and upset. Sure, you can explain the cause of death etc. but the deep emotional scar that you inflicted will stay forever. Had I been more sensitive and careful when breaking the bad news, I could have potentially reduce the negative impact. Needless to say, the rest of the night did not go well.
4. Being a doctor = good money??
- As a junior doctor, your payslip is determined by the category of run. The higher the run category, the higher the pay. Most runs are between category B-C, so about 80k/ yr. However category B run require you to work 50-55 hrs/wk. That means you only get paid about $25-$30/hr.
- After tax, a third of that is slashed off, some goes to student loan, some goes to kiwisavers. Plus, you are more likely to work overtime, but you are not paid for the extra hours. Nett pay? Approximately $15-18/hr.
- Good money? In my opinion- not really, not as a junior doctor anyway.
5. Balanced lifestyle??
- Surgeons (in particular) can often get called in the middle of the night to an emergency and perform hours of operation. They come back to work again on the same day. They can’t play with their kids because they are exhausted or simply don’t have the time.
- Junior doctors have to work 10-15 hours/ day for 12 day stretches. When they go home, all they want to do is sleep (that is if they can drive back home safely).
- These are just some examples of how your lifestyle can be affected BUT that does not happen everyday and it depends on your specialty as well.
6. Patients first
- You have a massive responsibility- you have to make sure everything important is in place (X-rays, CT scans, medications, surgeries etc.) You cannot just “leave the jobs for tomorrow” and go home because its 5’o clock.
- Its not uncommon to skip lunch or dinner due to the sheer amount of jobs you have.
7. Hospital hierarchy
- As a junior doctor, you are the least experienced member in the team. So your seniors make most of the decisions and you have to action it. There were times when I was afraid to question their decisions, simply because I thought they might think I am dumb.
- You want to impress them, you want to get accepted into the training program, you want good evaluations etc. etc. It can be very stressful and create barriers to patient’s care.
8. Future prospects
- Future-wise, there is an extremely broad variety of specialties that doctors can choose to do.
- However, that does not mean all doctors get what they want.
- First, you have to meet certain qualifications/ requirements, then you have to compete with many others to get a spot in the training program- its like Hell Science all over again!
- Some who got into their training program may “drop out” to do different specialties for reasons like- lifestyle balance, working environment or loss of passion.
9. A rewarding career?
- I have given mostly negative comments so far but I just want you to be aware that being a doctor is not all fine and dandy.
- Is it still a rewarding career? – YES! Despite the workload, challenging situations and complex hospital systems, I do enjoy making a positive difference in patient’s life. Money-wise, it will get better as I become more senior.
10. Do researches!!
- Two points
- Research more about doctors!- look up in the Internet, ask other doctors or to make it easier- just follow this website. There will be more interviews coming up with real NZ doctors.
- Research yourself- This is by far the most important step. Please learn and understand your interests and capabilities. Find out yourself truthfully- Do you really want to be a doctor?
Any questions, concerns or comments, please leave a comment below. I would like to hear from you!