I’m new to the scene of working as a doctor in the real world; having had a limited out-of-pandemic experience, I may be coming at this from an atypical perspective. But, in this blog post I will explain how I have tried to manage the social aspects of being a junior doctor – and how I am still struggling.
To help you understand my point-of-view, I am a Foundation Year 2 doctor (FY2) with an interest in plastic surgery. A speciality that is highly competitive to get into and requires a lot of dedication into improving your CV. I grew up in South-East London – where I was used to working hard and playing hard and went to the University of Exeter… which did not really meet my desires socially but was supplemented by frequent trips back home. Luckily, I have been blessed with foundation years back in London/Kent.
It helps to have Doctor-Friends
Listening to the tales of more senior doctors, I was always in awe of their glory days. In their early years of work when the hours were crazy and doctors often lived on-site; they had little time to see their family and friends, but plenty of wild stories with doctors and other Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) on hospital grounds. Many of these, now consultants, still regularly meet up with the doctors from their foundation years (or are married to them) and are overjoyed when opportunities arise to co-manage a patient.
Less senior doctors still talk about how the people they met in their foundation years and how that framed their junior years.
Fast-forward to 2020, graduating early into the pandemic. My interim job before starting F1, was an amazing opportunity to bond with another doctor as we had been placed in the same temporary socially distanced residence. I had a taste of the good old days; social life was essentially whoever we met in the hospital. By FY1, indoor gatherings were allowed for a few months before the second wave begun. My fellow FY1s were keen to make use of every opportunity and after-work drinks became a regular occurrence. We would be joined by our ward teams including doctors of other training levels and other AHPs. Furthermore, within my ward-based teams someone always made an active effort to organise dinner/another social event. I am currently trying to convince my current team to have a salsa social night.
Pros of socialising with colleagues
It makes the day go quicker when you enjoy who you are working with
It makes referring to other teams and asking for help easier
You bond with people you may have otherwise not have met – I have met amazing Physician Associates (you know who you are), pharmacists and fellow doctors
Emotional support as you go through a lot during the job – I had a group chat with my two other doctors who I was on-call with and when one person was having a busy day we would chip in and help. It was also good for asking any silly questions
You work better together which is ultimately great for your patients 😊
Cons of socialising with colleagues
Its difficult to find time when everyone’s off as someone needs to cover the on call – I often missed the mess events due to an on-call shift... maybe intentionally
Time outside of work is limited and this time can otherwise be spent with family and other friends – I would often prioritise getting admin/study done after work so I could see friends comfortably at the weekend
Sometimes you just need space from all things medical
Invest in hobbies outside of work
During university, I started powerlifting and joined a book club. Though I am against socialising in the gym, my book club has been a great place to make new friends and read more. A sentiment shared in Episode Two of the Melanin Medics Podcast Series; the benefits of crafting social events helps to feed you in other ways. Temitope Fisayo explains that he manages to get his exercise and socialising done in his timetable by scheduling sports with friends. He stated that tennis matches provide the endorphin rush he needed to face the world again. These scheduled events are almost immoveable in the diary and are a great way to carpe the diem.
Learn how to work the rota
Getting good at working the rota for your own benefit early is important. I found that having a shared drive where team members can have their rota and put down annual leave wish lists and proposed swaps early in the rotation was extremely helpful. It can also make things easier for the rota coordinator if the proposed final draft was sent as a spreadsheet. Weddings, birthdays, and exams are all leave dates that I have fought to make and appreciated when they’ve turned out well - despite needing to work back-to-back on calls to make it happen. Early involvement of clinical supervisors and other juniors is always helpful. Though, I am getting used to pre-empting and informing anyone who invites me out that I may get back to them in three months.
Seizing the day through organisation becomes increasingly important when spending time with non-medical friends who may have more standard hours in comparison. A structured self-development timetable is useful here – especially as Health Education England work to facilitate this time into our working days.
I still try to make most social events even when not planned – often to the detriment of my sleep. I distinctly recall a week of early starts coupled with a comedy show, wedding, hen party and recording for the podcast – by the end of the week I couldn’t string a sentence together and did not make my last event, but it was one of the most memorable weeks in my life. My new philosophy is, work hard regularly but if the opportunity arises to have fun (and not to detriment of my performance at work) – I will take it.
Pros of socialising with people not in “The System” (The NHS)
It keeps life interesting and keeps you well-rounded. Being a doctor can sometimes become your whole identity but it's good to see what else life has to offer
A support system who are not under similar pressures can allow different insights and less fatigue in listening to the same issues
Cons of socialising with people not in the system
Sometimes they just may not understand that you cannot say yes to events. They may also overstand and avoid inviting you to certain events
Their lives may be moving at a completely different pace that isn’t achievable with your job
In essence, it can be tough to maintain a work-life balance as a junior doctor; but it’s not impossible. Occasionally, it’ll take some sacrifices (mainly sleep) and well oiled google calendar. Some periods I overdo it socially and other periods I forget how to interact with others. There is still so much more to say, but I have found that work-life balance is an iterative process, but an important consideration for everyone in the medical field.