Life as a newly qualified Junior Doctor - Dr Molly Dineen

So, I’ve finished my first two full weeks as a junior doctor. I didn’t expect to be saying that for at least another three months. I also didn’t expect to be saying that I’ve really enjoyed it.


I say that because starting your first full time job in any field of work is a daunting prospect. And having read a story or two from Adam Kay, starting work as a junior doctor is really quite frightening. And starting work as a junior doctor in the middle of a worldwide pandemic is quite frankly terrifying. But so far, so good.   


For the past two weeks I have been working at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust (RCHT) on the Acute Medical Unit. Here we see all medical admissions, so a real variation of ages and conditions. We assess, admit, treat and refer patients appropriately, depending on their presentations. There are a fantastic team of nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, ward clerks, porters, cleaners, physician associates and emergency medical technicians (to name a few!) who work together to achieve optimal care and efficiency.


I have felt so lucky to be welcomed into this team of people who have been working so hard for many months through the Covid-19 pandemic. They have worked through anxiety, apprehension, uncertainty and have consistently adapted to variable working conditions. We are fortunate that so far in the South West that the number of Covid-19 cases has remained low, and thankfully that the ‘worst case scenario’ plans that have been prepared, have not yet been required. But whilst we may have had the first ‘quiet’ moments that the RCHT has ever seen, that doesn’t mean that this significant event hasn’t brought its challenges.


The biggest challenge that I have experienced in my first few weeks of work has been adapting the skills that I have learned during medical school to the new environment. I arrived equipped with the communication skills that have been shaped over five years, but I now have to communicate with my patients through a mask using only my eyes to express my thoughts and only my patient’s eyes to understand their emotions. I’m re-learning to conduct basic examinations at a safe distance with protective clothing on and I’m learning to take a full history from a patient without paper notes, to reduce contamination. Whilst our number of cases has remained low, we still work in a way that will prevent further spread and face the challenges of social distancing in the hospital environment.


Whilst this was a gradual movement for those already working in healthcare, I have had to adapt to this new environment in a matter of hours and become a new doctor all at the same time. In my first few weeks I’ve already had to face those challenging questions, “Do you think its cancer?”, “Is she going to die?”, and in those moments attempt to ignore all that is going on around us. It had been easy to forget that in many ways, life has continued despite the restrictions and returning to the hospital has been a clear reminder of that. 


I find it remarkable that the whole workforce, and the team of new doctors that I am a part of, are all remaining so positive and upbeat despite all of these challenges. There is a great sense of team spirit and personally I feel very lucky to have a purpose and as a new graduate, to have job security. I have pride in the job that I do but that is not unique to this time.


As lockdown rules ease, there will be many more people heading back to work, adapting their own environments and putting themselves at risk in order to help us all graduate back to normality. I hope that we all continue to work as one big team to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and that we respect the challenges that everyone faces. My new understanding of the challenges, even in an area which has been less affected than some, has emphasised the importance of this to me.  The fewer the cases, the fewer restrictions we will have on access to healthcare and the more normal life can become again.


Thank you for your contribution Molly - The Next Step team