Thursday, October 08, 2009

Once upon a time...

This post is in reaction to a sudden upsurge in followers, two of whom, I think, are still in school and looking to a career in medicine. Now I know this blog has violent mood swings about the whole GP / NHS experience, so I'm a little humbled to think they might be interested in what I have to say.

So kids, if you're still out there this one's for you.

A generation ago (at least) a thirteen year old lad came to a sudden, astonishing realization. He wasn't suited for the Army as he'd always imagined -- too independent of thought and slovenly of habits. No what he wanted to do even more than blow people apart, was to learn how to put them back together again. So suddenly he had to transform from an indifferent classics scholar to a scientist. Still at thirteen not too hard to do, and so by O level he had made up enough ground to pass the sciences well enough to go for A levels. (I won't tell you my grades-- you'd laugh. But O levels really were harder than GCSE's or so I like to kid myself)

A levels on the other hand were something else again. Biology I could do. After all it's a "talky" "feely" sort of a science. Chemistry I just about grasped, but Physics was so far beyond me it was embarrasing. In the end I scraped some kind of a grade for it, but the thing that saved my bacon was a biology "Special Paper" or "S level" designed for the brightest and best candidates to really show off what they knew. Thanks to a brilliant tutor and a couple of lucky questions I aced it.

Which was just as well. I'd spent a school career mooching about in the cadets, shooting the odd rifle and fiddling with the odd radio (boys toys for the soldier wannabe) but couln't do sport, played no musical instrument and had no meaningful outside interests. I did spend a month one summer working in a Cheshire Home and learning a heck of a lot about "caring" and "disability", and I had a summer job in the NHS recycling old X-ray plates (yes I know they're all electronic now, but back "before the flood" they were proper photographic plates and could be recycled to reclaim the silver). I'd also managed to witness an autopsy thanks to my Dad, and talk to a professor of nephrology who knew my granny. And that, dear readers, was the sum total of my preparedness for the wide world of medicine. That and Alan Alda in M*A*S*H, and the "Doctor in the House" series off the telly. (You'll probably need to ask your folks-- closest I can get would be Zach Braff, which isn't all that close to be honest).

Then I went to med school, on a grant, topped up by the generosity of parents and grandparents, and five years later emerged the poised polished clinician you see before you now, and my overdraft for my five years of student life was cleared by my first paycheck.

When I look at the sacrifices this generation has to make just to be in the running to get to med-school, and at the debt they can expect to leave with on graduation I am filled with admiration that they even want to try. So to any and all of you prospective medics out there who stumble across this, I wish you all every success and hope that you have as much fun in your chosen profession as I have had thus far in mine.


alhi said...

Fascinating. I came to the realisation too late that medicine was the life for me, so it's life as law lecturer instead (not even in medical law). I accompanied the first year law students to the local courts yesterday where, among others, the senior coroner spoke to them. I'm contemplating a slight divergence in my career right now!

hypotemuse said...

The autopsy was the real litmus test though, no? I once had a science teacher who took apart a sheep's (I think!) heart in class. Half the class was retching; a few had to leave the room (me! me!).

Physics is currently doing my daughter's head in. I'm glad I'm not her. I used to paint my nails in physics; there was an entire back row of girls who did - the physics teacher (a tweedy type called Johnston) had given up on us to save his sanity.

ageing student said...

When I was at school, I found Physics the hardest of the sciences too (although I only took any of them up to O-level). Now that I've been studying science at degree-level for a couple of years, I find physics much easier than organic chemistry. In fact, I find that physics is actually beginning to have more appeal for me than the human biology I started my course with!

Doctor Jest said...

alhi-- Coroners have a fantastic job don't they? Good luck if that's the route you chose to go.

hypotemuse-- If I coulhave I too would have painted my nails through physics, but I think it might have attracted unwanted attention ;-) Our physics teacher was a young enthusiast who was doubtless brilliant but couldn't do calculations for toffee. Every single one he tried came out spetacularly wrong. An entire generation of his students has for their physics catchphrase "Well after all, what's and order of magnitude between friends?"

a.s.-- I glad sombody gets it. Now if you could just see your way to making fusion cost effective... ;-)