The first year out: Surviving and thriving as a junior doctor
Congratulations! You’ve survived the gauntlet of medical school, where your biggest concerns included deciphering the handwriting of seasoned professors on whiteboards and navigating the treacherous waters of endless group projects and clinical rotations. Now, armed with a degree still hot to the touch, you’re about to dive headfirst into the wild world of medicine.
Think of this next step as an adventurous safari into the heart of the medical jungle. Here, you’ll encounter rare species like the Sleep-Deprived Surgeon and the Wise Consultant Who Speaks in Riddles. You'll learn to communicate in the native tongue of acronyms, navigate the dense underbrush of hospital bureaucracy, and decipher the mysterious hieroglyphs of electronic health records.
Embarking on the first year post-graduation, junior doctors face many challenges and opportunities. This time can be a steep learning curve, filled with moments of self-doubt, growth, and significant professional development.
We have created this fun guide with a synthesis of key strategies from online resources and doctors we've spoken to for not just surviving but thriving in your initial year as a medical practitioner.
"If you are yet to take blood on a real-life patient, your first experience will not go as badly as mine." Dr Tom Petrie
1. Embrace the learning curve
Everyone starts somewhere, and that somewhere usually involves Googling “how not to kill your patient on the first day.” It’s okay not to know everything. The trick is to nod thoughtfully and say, “Let me consult the latest research on that,” which translates to a quick Google search or a desperate text to a friend.
Being confident in what you don’t know is just as important to patient safety as being confident in what you know. Good doctors accept their limitations and are never afraid to ask for help. Dr Elie Matar told On the Wards
The transition from medical school to practising as a junior doctor is marked by a significant learning curve. Accept that you won’t know everything and that each day is a learning opportunity. Be proactive in seeking knowledge. Ask questions, no matter how trivial they seem, and take notes. Remember, every senior doctor was once in your shoes.
2. Combat imposter syndrome
Many junior doctors grapple with imposter syndrome, feeling like they don't belong or doubting their abilities. Recognise that these feelings are normal and not indicative of your competence. Openly discussing these feelings with peers can also be incredibly validating and reassuring.
"Imposter syndrome, described as feelings of inadequacy despite evidence of success, is common in medicine. Imposter syndrome should be regarded as a characteristic, almost cultural, element of our profession. Feeling like an imposter usually does not mean you lack competence. It is simply a predictable by-product of our working environment. It can also be a symptom of inequity." Dr Gaj Panagoda told Medworld.
You might feel like a kid wearing a doctor's costume, waiting for someone to call out your bluff. When imposter syndrome hits, remember the time you diagnosed a rare disease from a five-minute patient interaction...even if it turned out to be just a case of the common cold. Confidence is key, even if it’s borrowed from your future self.
3. Foster relationships
Befriend nurses, and you’ve got a guardian angel. Cross them, and you might find your patient’s bed mysteriously relocated to the basement. Bring treats, learn names, and never claim credit for their work.
"You can come to us for advice and guidance – we will have you back – but please don’t take us for granted. We have abundant knowledge about our patients, the hospital and how to make stuff happen." Sourced from Nursing Notes
Building strong relationships with your colleagues is crucial. Not only does it create a supportive work environment, but it also facilitates a network for learning and mentorship. Be open to feedback and seek a mentor to guide you through your first year. Their insights can be invaluable in navigating clinical and professional challenges.
4. Prioritise self-care
You will have moments that test your resolve, patience, and waterproof mascara. It’s okay to have a meltdown in the supply closet; just make sure you come out armed with a bandage or a syringe to maintain the illusion of having had a purpose in there.
"I haven’t always got it right and have joked I’ve cried in hospital toilets around the world. If that’s you right now, I truly feel you." Dr Mel McNiff told Medworld
The demands of being a junior doctor can be overwhelming, making self-care crucial for your mental and physical well-being. Establish a routine that includes activities unrelated to medicine. Whether it’s exercise, reading, or spending time with loved ones, ensure you have an outlet to decompress and recharge.
You’ll quickly learn the sacred art of the power nap: in the break room, the loo, or during those rare elevator rides alone.
5. Make the most of learning opportunities
Your first year has opportunities to expand your clinical knowledge and skills. Volunteer for procedures and cases that are new to you, under supervision. Attend workshops, conferences, and utilise online resources to supplement your learning. Each experience is a step towards building your competence and confidence.
6. Manage time effectively
Time management is a vital skill for junior doctors. Learn to prioritise tasks and manage your time efficiently to balance patient care, learning, and personal life. Tools like planners or digital apps can help keep track of your duties and commitments.
Manage to eat lunch, check social media, AND use the bathroom? Congratulations, you’re officially winning at doctor life. These small victories keep you going, so celebrate them. Throw in time for a coffee? You’re practically a superhero.
7. Embrace teamwork
Medicine is a team sport. Collaborating effectively with nurses, allied health professionals, and other doctors is essential for patient care and personal growth. Respect, communication, and openness to learning from all healthcare team members will enrich your experience and patient outcomes.
8. Seek feedback
Regular feedback is crucial for your development as a doctor. Seek out feedback from supervisors and colleagues and use it constructively. Understanding areas for improvement early on will set a strong foundation for your medical career.
9. Stay humble and curious
Maintain humility and a thirst for knowledge. Medicine is an ever-evolving field, and staying curious and open-minded is key to adapting and growing.
"Be curious, be humble, be kind. Seek fulfilment, seek balance, seek mentors. Value education, value science, value humanity. Reflect. Grow. Thrive!" Dr Rob Mitchell On the Wards
Resources for junior doctors:
Clinical guidelines and education:
Therapeutic Guidelines (eTG): Provides up-to-date, evidence-based guidelines on a wide range of medical treatments and conditions.
Australian Prescriber: An independent source of information about drugs and therapeutics, offering free articles and podcasts.
MJA Clinical Practice Guidelines: Published by the Medical Journal of Australia, offering guidelines on various medical conditions.
Professional development and support:
Australian Medical Association (AMA): Offers a range of resources for junior doctors, including career advice, networking opportunities, and well-being resources.
Postgraduate Medical Councils: Each state and territory in Australia has its own Postgraduate Medical Council, providing support, accreditation of training positions, and educational resources.
Junior Doctor Network (JDN) by AMA: A network that provides support, information, and representation for junior doctors.
Mental health and well-being:
Doctors' Health Advisory Service (DHAS): Offers confidential support and advice to doctors and medical students facing health issues, including stress and mental health.
Black Dog Institute: Provides resources and support for mental health, including workshops and training specifically designed for healthcare professionals.
Hand-N-Hand Peer Support: is a website started by Dr Tahnee Bridson. It offers free, confidential peer support for health professionals in Australia and New Zealand. You sign up and are matched with another healthcare professional volunteer. The volunteers are experienced healthcare professionals with dedicated mental health training. Both one-on-one and group peer support are available.
Wombat Health: was started by Dr Henry Kurtze and offers the ability for doctors to connect with Australian psychologists experienced in trauma therapy where they can book sessions that fit their schedules. The Wombat Team are offering a 5% discount for Medrecruit doctors seeking trauma support.
Medical careers advisory service: Offers career planning resources and advice for doctors at all stages of their careers, including junior doctors.
RACGP – GP Career Pathways: For those interested in a career in General Practice, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners provides a pathway guide. For those interested in other specialties, visit the college of your choice for career pathways.
Networking and conferences:
Australian Medical Students' Association (AMSA): Though primarily for medical students, AMSA also offers resources and events that may benefit junior doctors, especially in networking and advocacy.
Conferences and workshops: Regularly check hospital bulletin boards, professional association websites, and university postings for upcoming medical conferences and workshops which are great opportunities for learning and networking.
LinkedIn and ResearchGate: Professional networking sites that can be used to connect with mentors, join professional groups, and stay updated on medical conferences and workshops.
These resources can provide you with support, education, and guidance as you navigate the early years of your medical career.