Do you remember the imaginary games you used to play as a child? Although I've always said I didn't really decide I wanted to be a doctor until I was about sixteen or seventeen, I vividly recall many instances of playing 'doctor' when I was young.
We had a great big laptop computer that I would set up on my desk (and quite often not even switch on) and I'd make myself piles of 'forms' (even in those days I seemed to appreciate paperwork in the healthcare system). I'd gather together various pens and nail files as 'equipment', and my bed became the couch in the consulting room. To finish it all off, I had a real, working stethoscope given to me by a family member which I'd place proudly round my neck. To be honest, I don't really remember ever playing this game for very long each time. I'd do a few imaginary consultations, randomly sign the 'forms' I'd made, and jab away importantly at the keyboard before tidying it all away again or moving on to something new.
These memories came back to me the other day as I sat myself down at a computer, arranged real equipment on the desk around me and pulled my own real stethoscope out of my bag. Now I had a real examination couch behind me, and thermometers and saturation probes instead of nails files and felt tips. This time the computer was switched on and logged on to an actual GP system. And the patients were real people with real problems. It was no longer a game. I was actually doing this!
I'm already approaching the end of a four-week placement at a GP surgery and it's been one of the best learning experiences I've had so far. I spent a week and a half sitting in with doctors and nurses, observing the consultations and doing simple things like taking temperatures and blood pressures and giving injections.
After that, I've been scheduled my own clinics where I see the patients by myself for up to twenty minutes, before the doctor comes in to check what I've found out from the patient, confirm the diagnosis (if there is one) and order any investigations or write prescriptions that are needed. It's really tested my knowledge and skills, especially as I've usually got no idea what's about to come through the door!
I've seen patients by myself occasionally in clinics or in A&E (still with a doctor checking up afterwards of course!), but I think what really makes this placement different is having my own room, getting patients from the waiting room myself and being able to type my own notes onto the system. Also, I think that for many patients, going to the doctor's is a bit of an 'occasion' still, something you build up to, unlike an emergency admission to A&E. They might be more prepared with what they want to say or what they hope to get out of the consultation.
I was surprised to find myself not feeling particularly nervous about doing these clinics. Perhaps it was a case of simply having to get on with it - the patients were booked in and had turned up, there's no getting out of it for me! It did feel weird when I was standing in reception the week before and could hear the receptionist booking people in to see me, but it's been such a good experience so far and a real confidence booster. I've mentioned before about how helpful patients are to medical students, and it's the same again now. Whatever I've done for the patients I've seen this placement, I'd say they've really done more for me!
When I used to sit at my bedroom desk with that stethoscope round my neck, I never envisaged that one day I'd be doing it for real. I think I picked the right game to pursue though... the other options were vets (a cat allergy probably stands in the way of that. Plus I've seen the Veterinary Science course... *shudders*) or airport check-in (having watched far too many episodes of Airline).
Did you ever imagine during your childhood that you'd be doing what you do now?