The Sunday Times Magazine: Being a young medic should carry a government health warning

glass_w_1192172kPeople swoon at the fact that my boyfriend’s a doctor. But flattery alone can’t save these hard-working young medics.

I did not start dating my boyfriend because I wanted to bag a doctor. You can’t base a relationship on someone’s job being a status symbol or the “Ooh!” people make when they hear what he does. “Dr” is not a title you can marry into anyway.

Still, my friends — none of whom have “real” jobs — are endlessly impressed. And a recent survey found that almost 40% of parents hoped their son or daughter would marry a doctor. (Compared with, say, the pitiful 3% who’d like their child to marry a journalist.)

Despite how enthusiastic people are about doctors, the Boy doesn’t talk about his work much. Doctors, I’ve found, are modest compared with journalists. He doesn’t, for example, feel the need to retweet praise. Or have a photo of his face hanging over the ward.

Before I met the Boy, I’d grumble about hard work as I juggled five deadlines and produced 5,000 words in 24 hours without sleep, even though I spent most of that time eating chocolate biscuits. I complained about stress after interviewing obnoxious pop stars and moaned about the nightmare week I’d had when I’d spent most of it getting drunk at gallery openings. But I don’t hear the Boy complain much.

He doesn’t go on about his hours, although in A&E he can work 9- to 12-hour shifts back to back for 12 days straight. He does not complain about the pressure of making life-and-death decisions on five hours’ sleep. He doesn’t moan about the man with Alzheimer’s who punched him. Or about how hard it must have been to comfort a weeping old man who knew he was dying and was afraid to go alone. He doesn’t like to talk about how he found a woman on his ward dead and cold, and then turned a corner to see her husband arriving with flowers, and had to tell him that she wasn’t coming home.

He doesn’t talk about the day he found a woman dead, then saw her husband arriving with flowers and had to tell him she wasn’t coming home

The Boy does not even complain about me calling him the Boy when, at 28, he has taken on more responsibility than I ever will. He doesn’t complain, because he loves his job. He cares for his patients long after his shift has finished.

I didn’t want to bag a doctor, but now I am in awe of what he does. The countless lives he’s saved, the babies he’s delivered.

Then, the other day, he said to me: “I just don’t know if I can be a doctor any more.” He looked like he might cry, but he didn’t — because he wouldn’t. He had added up the cost of London living, the fees for exams doctors have to keep taking, the expense of getting to and from work, sometimes in taxis, because it’s the middle of the night or a weekend (because if you look at a junior doctor’s shift pattern, we already have a seven-day NHS).


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