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My first day as a doctor

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I’ll never forget my first day as a doctor. I donned my freshly laundered white coat, swung my new stethoscope around my neck, clipped the newly acquired Parker pen into my shirt pocket, stuffed a copy of the drug formulary into my coat pocket and made my way to the gynaecology ward of the large Dublin hospital where decades ago on the 1st of August I was to be the new medical intern.

She greeted me with a warm smile as she stood at her desk in the ward office. ‘Sister Eileen Doorly’ it said on her name badge. She must have been in her mid 50s and had the bearing of someone to be respected.

Good morning, doctor.

This was the first time anyone like her had called me doctor and my heart missed a beat.

Me: Good morning, Sister. What can I do for you this morning?

Her: Well, you might want to prescribe an anti emetic for the patients post op doctor.

I hesitated. I knew what the drug was but wasn’t sure about a number of other important details. I hesitated. She watched me closely. Smiling kindly. The formulary was within grasp but I left it in my pocket and chose to ask.

What does the professor like to use post op sister?

Her smile broadened.

That would be stemetil doctor

I unclipped the pen and stood with the nib poised over the first drug kardex.

Me: S..t…..

Her: e..m..e..t..i..l.

Me: Thank you. And what dose does he like to use?

Her: 12.5 mgs i.m. twice a day. 6am and 6pm. The rest, is on your name badge, doctor.

She had a twinkle in her eye. She was teasing me but somehow I could sense that she didn’t mean to be rude. Eileen Doorly spent the following three months teaching me everything I needed to know to get through the most demanding year of my career. She did it willingly, she did it with the deepest respect and she did it with discretion. I am forever grateful to her. I never saw her after that year and because I moved overseas for my specialist training I didn’t have the opportunity to thank her. She also taught me that sometimes it pays to let those who work with you teach you things, to show your vulnerable side and to trust them. I published my first academic paper while working on that ward. It set me up to get a place as one of six to be offered a prestigious training job against stiff competition.

Eileen Doorly inspired that work because in that first week on the ward she explained that my job as an intern was not only to provide basic medical care but to support the catholic Irish women who would be told in the course of their admission that they would be unable to bear children. That experience was critical to my decision to choose to specialise in general practice. In the course of my career I have met a number of people like Eileen Doorly, men and women, older, wiser and more experienced. Always willing to teach, always with the patients best interests at heart. Medicine requires team work, it is a demanding profession in which errors can cost lives. Men and women like Eileen Doorly ensure that patients are not harmed despite the many inexperienced doctors who must participate in healthcare to learn the art.

Picture by Jez