Who are these lazy, greedy doctors we have been hearing about in the press recently? Having worked with these people 24/7, coming from a medical family, and being a doctor myself; I want to share an insight into who our junior doctors are, and what they are really saying behind closed doors.
The mainstay of a junior doctor's job description is simply 'help sick people' and 'save lives.' Yet doctors have recently been portrayed by the government and some of the media as greedy and 'lacking vocation.' For most doctors, this has been a devastating blow. Medicine traditionally attracts the brightest and the best minds in the country. Becoming a doctor is a challenging and competitive process, and you have to be highly skilled and resourceful to survive in the current NHS environment.
Doctors could have just as effortlessly become bankers with their inflated bonuses, or MPs with their self-appointed 10% pay rises. But they chose better; they chose to commit themselves to helping others despite the financial and personal sacrifices to themselves. Student debt of up to 70K on graduation, professional fees, indemnity fees and the thousands of pounds spent on postgraduate examinations, result in a massive financial burden on doctors. In short, they have to spend a considerable amount of their wage, just to train and be allowed to work.
It therefore almost seems like complete absurdity that the government could ever put into question whether or not doctors are good value for money, and furthermore impose a brutal pay cut on them. Surely pay should reflect the contribution a profession can offer to their society and their level of skill and training? Unlike some other professions, doctors are indoctrinated to feel hesitant, and even ashamed, when discussing their salaries publicly. Yet somehow we live in a culture that readily accepts Kim Kardashian's net worth on the basis of her surgically enhanced assets and her questionable contribution to society.
Medics are finally trying to tell the government that they are exhausted and that their health is suffering as a result. Doctors have some of the highest rates of depression, addiction and suicide of any profession, but this has habitually been swept under the carpet. The job is physically, mentally and emotionally draining. Dealing with life and death situations on a daily basis can take its toll. There is no margin for error, and doctors are expected to be able to analyse information, carry out complex procedures and make important decisions often when sleep deprived and fatigued. The hours worked by doctors are already punishing, and safeguarding measures that are in place for protecting doctors from being further overworked, will now be removed under the new contract.
Doctors are genuinely concerned about patient safety. They are literally causing an uproar at the government, confessing that they feel that they could potentially cause harm to patients if this new contract goes ahead. But the government is not listening. What sane patient would want to be operated on by a disillusioned and worn-out doctor at 3am in the morning? I certainly would not. I can confirm that doctors are also human beings and fallible, like anyone else, their brains turn to mush when they are sleep deprived or unwell too. I have witnessed colleagues attending their night shifts on A&E with everything from tonsillitis to atypical pneumonias, as there is no other cover available. It is a car crash waiting to happen.
Let me make one thing clear; doctors are not rebels. The general attitude adopted by many medics I have worked with it is to 'get your head down and get on with it.' They are strong, stoic and resilient. They will work overtime for free, skip their breaks or forget to eat their lunch without so much as a peep out of them. Doctors do this because they uphold a fundamental belief that if they work hard, play by the rules and do a good job, that this will be recognized and fairly rewarded. They sacrifice their social lives and their own families in order to put their patients' lives first. They are truly honest, good people. The pride and sense of achievement they feel from doing their job properly, for most, surpasses any kind of financial incentive.
One of my seniors received a beautifully written card from a patient, and he echoed exactly this sentiment as he proudly explained to me 'this is why we do this.' As I worked with him over the next few months in an understaffed and very busy hospital, I noticed him little by little lose heart until one day he confided in me; 'what am I even doing here anymore?' There was a clear and increasingly familiar undertone of regret and disheartenment in his voice. Fundamentally, our doctors' goodwill is being exploited and eroded; and the fact that doctors are even considering striking is testimony to how difficult their lives have become. Striking defies every moral fibre in a doctor's body; it is a real sign of their absolute fear for the future state of the NHS.
So what are the doctors saying behind closed doors? They are saying that they have had enough. They are declaring that they will unify against the government and that they will fight. They are warning their children not to follow their career path, and considering their options very carefully also. Many have been tempted by warmer climates, or a career change all together. They are adamant that they will not back down, and that the government has picked the wrong group of professionals to attack. After arguably lying dormant for so long, the medical profession has finally erupted in defense of both their profession and their patients' future welfare. I am immensely proud of my colleagues; ultimately these are some of the most inspirational and gifted people I know. They are the 'good guys', and yet they are time and again the ones being vilified and devalued in the press at the moment. But if the new contract goes ahead, one day soon we may all wake up and ask where have all the good doctors gone? And the answer? They will either be abroad, bankers, or just totally burnt out.