View from the ground, by a Foundation year 2 trainee

'How has she made me feel so at ease during this difficult time? She is so kind. I want to be her.’ These are the words that echoed through my 12-year-old mind, after I witnessed a GP compassionately inform my family that my grandma was dying. I still remember how that GP made me feel, and I knew from that moment that I wanted be a doctor.

This dream was a little more difficult to achieve than I had hoped but a little more life experience and an extra degree later and I was in, third time lucky! Medical school was certainly not a breeze, but I started to discover my passion, I wanted to make a difference to people’s lives and reflect the kindness and compassion that was shown to me as a child.

My first day as a foundation doctor was terrifying. Suddenly there was no one to hide behind, everyone looked to you for answers and death became an everyday occurrence. I kept telling myself it would get better, surely it would, but I seemed to be spiralling in reverse. Day turned into night and night turned into day, the only continuity being fear.

I became a shadow of my former self, consumed by anxiety and frustration. Frustration that I had spent so many years of my life trying to get to this place, to be this person, to make a difference, and now that I found myself here, I could not cope. I found that it was a place where rota gaps meant that nurses and doctors were having to care for an excessive number of patients, with the constant fear that a simple mistake made under pressure could cost a life. This was not what I had in mind all those years ago.

Walking home after an exhausting shift, I looked at the stream of traffic and thought to myself that everything would be a lot easier if I just walked out into the road. How had I ended up here? Enough was enough, I was not going to let this job destroy me any more. I had to get out.

I cannot fault the support that was given to me from the foundation school, psychiatry team, and my GP during this difficult time. They got me through foundation year 1, and I am ever thankful for that. Unfortunately, 4 days after starting my foundation year 2 job I was mentally and physically defeated, and not safe to care for patients. After discussions with my new foundation school, I took sick leave with the view that I may not return.

I began to pursue alternative career options, knowing that my ultimate aim was to be in a job where I could make a difference. Palliative care nursing and elderly companionship roles were on the top of my list when meeting with the careers advisor. During our meeting we discussed the Less Than Full Time Training (LTFTT) Programme, which would allow me to return to work as a doctor on 50% fewer hours giving me time in between shifts to collect my thoughts and do some volunteering. I was initially sceptical about the idea, but felt I had already leapt over so many hurdles to become a doctor—this would be my final shot.

After 2 months off sick, I returned to work on a phased return, and started the LTFTT Programme a month later. This was a huge achievement for me. I am currently half way through my first placement as a foundation year 2 doctor and am starting to find myself again. I have also started volunteering for Age UK and the Alzheimer’s Society, which have always been close to my heart.

I wanted to share my story as I know that, unfortunately, I am not alone. I wanted to reach out to anyone who can relate to my experience and say that it’s okay to stray off course. From the start of medical school, you are continually asked ‘what kind of doctor do you want to be?’ and it can often feel as though everyone has a plan except you.

I have realised through my journey that although we spend our days as doctors caring for others, we cannot, and must not, forget about our own health.