Developing my creative side will help me be a better doctorBMJ 2016; 355 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i5542 (Published 18 October 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i5542
Patrice Baptiste explains how taking time out of training to pursue other interests has helped rekindle her love of medicine
Last August I decided to take a year out of training. I had become tired of the day-to-day work of a junior doctor. Medicine itself is not boring, but jobs like preparing the ward list in the mornings or printing blood forms for the weekend had become necessary but laborious duties.
Many of us stifle our creative natures when we become doctors—and I felt this strongly. When I began foundation training I neglected many activities I once drew pleasure from. I used to love writing, poetry in particular, and it took me a while to take it up again after I had adjusted to life as a doctor.
But what about those doctors who completely neglect their creative sides? Many of my peers have told me that they have “lost their creativity” and have “forgotten” how to do things that they once found so easy, such as writing, painting, and even playing instruments.
In order to study medicine, universities demand that individuals are “well rounded,” with interests outside school. But once we are in the medical machine, keeping up with these outside interests is impossible for many of us.
Locuming during foundation year 3 gave me a sense of autonomy and freedom that I could never have experienced in full time training. As I start GP training I am glad I took a break and experienced life without the responsibility and demands of a trainee doctor. I was able to work for a few weeks at a time, maintaining my clinical skills but not getting bored with the mundane tasks necessary to keep a hospital running.
During my year out I began writing again and have had both medical and non-medical articles published in a variety of newspapers, journals, and websites. I am also working on a collection of poems.
I enjoy talking to school students and so I set up an organisation called DreamSmartTutors www.dreamsmarttutors.com, which sends medical students and doctors into schools to talk about the working life of a doctor. If the school students decide to pursue a career in medicine we can offer them support through personalised tuition and courses.
So, why am I returning to training? I have always wanted to be a doctor and my passion for medicine is still strong. I realised during my year out that it was the system—the NHS and its problems—that had made me question my decision to study medicine and to work as a doctor. I am still concerned about the NHS and the junior doctor contract but I enjoy learning and want to complete my clinical training. I have worked too hard for too long to leave medicine now.
I know there will be moments when I long for the autonomy of foundation year 3 but I also know that after I complete my GP training there will be many more doors open to me. I may decide to work part time, or teach trainee doctors or medical students. I may pursue my writing more seriously or take up a completely different creative pursuit.
Last year, around half of junior doctors did not go on to specialist training after the foundation programme, with 13% taking a career break.1 A lot could be done to hold on to those doctors who may not see medicine as the be all and end all. There needs to be a change in attitudes and more flexibility so it’s no longer seen as a rite of passage to have survived a week of nights or 14 hours on call.
The NHS allows juniors to take time out of training and has recently launched a clinical entrepreneurship programme.2 These opportunities need to be more widely advertised and encouraged. Letting junior doctors step off the training conveyor belt does not mean that they will all leave—some, like me, will return with a fresh outlook on their career.
Competing interests: I have read and understood the BMJ Group policy on declaration of interests and declare that I have none.