Queer | Feminist | Doctor

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I have depression, and this means that for the last couple of years I’ve been operating on limited spoons. This is why I’m working part-time. It means that some days I run out of spoons and have to just spend the evening trying to recover some of my energy. It means that I have to remember to take medicine every day in order to not turn into an angry crying mess. I am very lucky to have a family and friends who support me through my bad patches, and who understand that sometimes I will cancel on them at the last minute, or have difficulty committing to things.

It makes me less giving, and I worry that people see me as being selfish. When I went back to work after having broken my leg, a couple of my consultants fed back that I was “unwilling to stay beyond 5pm” and that they saw that as not being appropriate for a junior doctor. At the time I was completely supernumerary and my depression was flaring up due to having broken my leg, so I don’t think that trying to hang on to my spoons was inappropriate at that point, nor did I feel that it was necessary to disclose my health status to every single person that I worked with to pre-empt them judging me for not working unpaid overtime. But doctors are expected to want to be at work all the time, and for many specialities, the training requires you to work a LOT of unpaid overtime just to get exposure to the kinds of cases that you need to know about in order to develop your skills and knowledge base.

When colleagues ask me what I want to do with my life, I often answer “be happy” rather than specify my career intentions. The range of responses this has provoked is very interesting:

“Oh, you want to be a GP then? Most GPs work part time”

“You’re not going to be a surgeon then.”

“Well, you know you can do flexible training in lots of different specialities so you don’t just have to be a GP”

or, saddest of all

“Aww, I want to be a surgeon :-(”

Most of the people who assumed that wanting to be happy and wanting to be a surgeon were incompatible were surgeons themselves!

Some people live to work, and that is fine. A lot of doctors have that kind of attitude to work, because it used to be that ALL doctors lived to work – there was no other option. If you were a GP in a one-man (and it was one man) practice, then you were on-call *all the time*. If someone got ill in the night and needed you, you had to be there. Fortunately (from my perspective at least) things are not like that any more and while there are arguments against doctors working shifts, the fact is that my job is shift work.

I work to live – having a job enables me to have the resources I need to be able to spend time with the people who are most important to me, doing the things I most enjoy. I took a year out before university, I took a year out from medical school and did a Postgraduate Diploma, and now I’m working part-time. I’m ok with the fact that I’m not climbing the career ladder as fast as is humanly possible, because I know that if I were trying to do that, I would be less happy.

I try to be open at work about the fact that I’m working part time and the reasons for it, and for the most part I think that has been a good thing. I want to be visible to other people who have less spoons so that they know that they are not alone, and I want to be visible as a person with mental health problems in order to try to challenge the stigma that people with mental illness face.

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Comments on: "On being a doctor with limited spoons" (1)

  1. phil badger said:

    Hugely brave and I write as a depressive who is also a teacher of psychology! The hidden price of mental health problems is very great in a job like yours. doctors often feel the need to maintain an illusion of control which is deeply unhealthy. You are a great example to others to be ‘out’ about their mental health issues.

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