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So, what's next?

08 Aug 2019

By Ming Yong, RMO working in Newcastle


Just recently, I was invited to give a talk on “Life after Med School” at an academic event organised by the Newcastle MedSoc. 

This would be the second time I am giving this talk. Last year, I was invited to the same event and focused my talk on all the wonderful and fulfilling things I did during medical school that has helped me as an intern, passing on advice about how students should branch out and get involved in extracurricular activities because these experiences make them better doctors. In hindsight, it was a very intense talk. Worse, I walked away feeling like I just presented my CV, glorified in powerpoint slides, to a room full of medical students. I felt like a douche.

This year, I thought, will be different. I will take a more relaxed approach to the talk and focus on life as a junior doctor and how it is different from life as a medical student. Easier said than done. Apart from the obvious - being paid, being a “real” doctor, and being a member of the workforce, how is life as a working adult different from life as a medical student? How is it better? How is it worse? What changed? When, where? Why am I being so philosophical about all this?

Having hit a brick wall, I tapped into my resourcefulness and went vox pop on the topic, asking a few friends over Messenger “if you could tell your med student self one thing about life after med school what would it be?”

Some painted a bleak picture. One friend’s advice was to “enjoy your time with your friends as a student before you become an adult with full time work and bills and minimal time off.” Another was far more succinct, “Lol tell them it sucks.”

Some gave pragmatic advice. One friend, under the stress of job applications at the moment replied, “foster your referees now.” Another, on a run of evenings when I spoke to, advised that “help is always just a phone call away.”

On the flip, some gave positive advice. A friend who also moonlights as a yoga instructor gave advice only fitting of a friend who moonlights as a yoga instructor, “I was kinda expecting some big change, but it happens slowly - enjoy it.” And another friend, possibly one of my most chill, advised that “it’s much more enjoyable than I thought it would be - there’s a lot of doom and gloom in the media but internship/residency is quite enjoyable.”

And of course, some missed the mark entirely. My best friend, currently a surgical registrar in WA replied with an irrelevant Spongebob meme I still don’t entirely understand.

So then, what really is life like after med school? 

There is the obvious - you get paid, you get far more responsibilities, and you can’t leave midway through the day to “go to the library.” There is the frightening - your first solo urgent clinical review, your first death certification, your first confrontation with an angry family member. And sadly, there are some things that never end -  job progression, more exams that only get tougher, the constant demands for ongoing education, research and teaching requirements outside work.

There are some things you need to know when you start life after med school. For one, Internship and Residency is a shared experience - you will always be surrounded by other junior doctors who will support you and count on you for support. And if you ever find yourself out of your depth in the slightest, help is always just a phone call away.

And there are also a lot of things you won’t know until you start life after med school. Some are positive - you may find you learn so much more and so much quicker on the job, or that your patients do value the work you do, and that at the end of the day, you do love doing a job that excites and stimulates you. Some, however, do suck - you may find it hard to go to work some days and on the verge of burning out on others, or you might realise that the time you have to do the fun things you love is far more limited. You might even come to learn that maybe, just maybe, medicine isn’t for you, which is also okay.

So then, if I could tell my med student self one thing about life after med school, what would it be?

I’d say screw it, it’s something only you can experience yourself. Whether you love it or you hate it, I hope you enjoy the ride.

Ming is currently a Resident Medical Officer working in Newcastle NSW. His previous roles in AMSA include Publications Officer of GHC 2014 in Sydney, Publications and Promotions Officer of the AMSA National Executive in 2015, Publications, Promotions and IT Officer of GHC 2016 in Newcastle, and Co-Convenor of NLDS 2017. He was awarded the AMSA President’s Medal in 2016 and AMSA Life Membership in 2017. 

Published: 08 Aug 2019