Think Feel ACT…"Write your own story"

Once a doctor…

It’s true – once upon a time I went to medical school and became a doctor. But for more than 10 years I’ve been doing pretty unconventional doctor stuff. Stuff that’s hard to explain. Stuff there’s no single name for. Stuff I couldn’t describe on my business card beyond “Consultant: Health & Medical Services”.

So I wonder, does the “real” doctor part of me still exist? Can 10 years plus of doing related but different things simply wash away that which took such intense training to create?

I’m not sure. On one hand it’s use it or lose it. On the other, I wonder whether any of us can really shed our training and return to our pre-trained selves. Are there some things you simply can’t unlearn?

One of my colleagues, an ex lawyer, is now well into a second career which is not in the legal field at all. He claims to have long ago left behind any identification he had as a lawyer. Yet to me, he walks like a lawyer. Purposeful, directed, powerful. Can you unlearn how you walk?

For me, I can’t grow my nails long. It’s been more than 10 years since I laid hands on a person to examine their abdomen or do an internal examination or anything else where long nails would be inappropriate. The length of my nails is really my own personal business. But long nails just feel wrong. I can’t untrain myself from having short nails.

But the way you walk, the length or your nails or any other leftover habit don’t make a professional. Clearly there is much more to being a doctor or lawyer than a habit you can’t break. You must, by definition, be in practice.

And it’s true, I am no longer engaged in clinical practice. I no longer see patients, make diagnoses, prescribe medication, order tests, immunise kids, do Pap tests, syringe ears, suture wounds, assess mental states, refer to specialists. Any of the conventional doctor stuff that I once did.

I’d need (and want) some retraining before I entertained the thought of doing all that again. So in that sense I was once a doctor. A very specific, recognisable type of doctor. And that type of doctor I am no longer.

Yet I can’t say I’m an “un-doctor”. So what does it mean for me to have once been a “doctor”?

As a doctor, even a non-clinical doctor, I still get asked about people’s medical concerns. Clearly there are legal and ethical issues with answering these questions. The answer that now just rolls off my tongue is: “You need to talk to your GP about that”. It can be tricky when people are persistent. I remember once at a party reaching the point of offering to take a look at someone’s haemorrhoids there and then…they got the point after that.

But even as I push people back to their own doctors (which is the right and proper thing to do), it doesn’t mean I don’t have the knowledge I spent so many years learning. I’ve no doubt forgotten some things, got rusty in others – but the fundamentals are there. How could they not be? I’ve still spent the last decade and a bit immersed in all that knowledge and learning more.

And spent a good deal of effort trying to improve health at the public level rather than at the individual level. Like writing, reviewing and editing all sorts of health and medical information for consumers and health professionals…print, webpages, infographics, apps, e-learning modules. And that takes an ability to find, read and assess current medical evidence and place it into context with associated pros and cons. As well as know how to communicate to different audiences.

There are many areas of healthcare I’ve grown interested in, even passionate about: measurement for improvement, shared-decision making, quality use of medicines, using information to promote behaviour change, improving health and wellbeing at work…all things that can be done to improve health at a public level, yet things that have the potential to help individuals immeasurably.

So whilst I might have once been one type of doctor, I have become a very different type of doctor. A doctor who does stuff  at the public level, rather than the individual level. Stuff that may be hard to describe, but is worthwhile nevertheless.

But if it is personal medical information you’re after – you’re best off seeing your GP. That’s my advice.

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