Response to the Primates’ Meeting

With a tiny sigh, I foresee that the coming hours and days will be filled with headlines about the Anglican Communion being “fractured” and the Scottish Episcopal Church being “punished”.

Indeed, first thing this morning, my phone pinged with an email alert:

“Scottish Anglicans face harsh punishment for gay weddings.”

All deeply wrong.

Let’s start by putting things in their proper historical context. The Scottish Episcopal Church can trace its roots back to the arrival of Columba on Iona in the sixth century AD. We have existed in our modern form since 1689. We have been forged over the past four centuries by scarier things than Primates’ Meetings, for goodness’ sake; just Google “Jacobites”.

That headline came before anyone in the Primates’ Meeting had even said anything. And has been proven to be untrue once they did. You’ll forgive me if I didn’t start quaking in my shoes.

So, let’s try to unpack a little what has actually been happening in Canterbury this week.

There is a meeting of the Anglican Primates, which began yesterday and which will run until Thursday. It is a meeting that happens occasionally, and is an opportunity for the leaders of all of the Anglican provinces around the world to talk and listen to each other. The agenda this year is broad-ranging, including issues of evangelism, social inequality, and climate change. There has also been a conversation about the Scottish Episcopal Church, around the decision made at our General Synod earlier this year to change our Canon Law to allow for marriage equality within our Province. That happened today. This conversation has not come as a surprise to us — a similar one took place at a Primates’ Meeting shortly after a similar decision was made by the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, with the result that various “sanctions” were applied to ECUSA. That happened in 2016 and our brethren in America remain very much part of the Communion — the service of Evensong held at the Primates’ Meeting yesterday was led by their Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. It has never been in question that the Scottish Episcopal Church would remain part of the Anglican Communion, no matter what was said or done in Lambeth this week.

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Photo: Ruth Richards-Hill, used with the permission of Rosemary Hannah and Sophie Agrell.

The outcome of the Primates’ conversations around the Scottish Episcopal Church has been the application of very minimal sanctions. We are excluded from doctrinal debates, and we may not chair committees within the Communion. These are broadly similar sanctions as those that were applied to ECUSA in January 2016.

They are what we expected. No more. No worse.

We are given to understand from things that have been said to the conservative Christian press that demands were made by some primates for Scotland to be given more punitive sanctions. Justin Welby should be praised for holding a firm line against those demands, but at the same time it’s difficult to see that there was any other pragmatic option.

We take the Primates’ Meeting seriously — as seriously as it needs to be taken, which is somewhat less seriously and with a little more context than the press do.

For one thing, it would have been ludicrous to suggest that the Scottish Episcopal Church embarked on the process of introducing marriage equality in the Church with anything less than a full and keen knowledge of the consequences that we might bring down upon our own head. The story of the long campaign to make same-sex marriage possible in the Church is well documented within these pages and elsewhere. Those of us who have been at the sharp end of that campaign have never hung back from talking about what this might mean within the Anglican Communion, and at the same time we have been perfectly clear about what it cannot mean. For it would also be ludicrous to suggest that the Scottish Episcopal Church has not been fully aware of the considerable limitations of the Primates.

The Anglican Communion is not an autocracy lashed together by rules and regulations, with cross-provincial laws to be followed and punishments to be handed out to transgressors . The Anglican Communion is a fellowship, held together by bonds of affection and a shared history and an understanding that even the best of friends do not always agree with one another.

On this occasion, we in Scotland have come to a decision — a decision that was taken after conversation, after consultation, after much thought and prayer.

That decision has been one that not everyone in the Anglican Communion has agreed with. It has been one that not everyone in the Scottish Episcopal Church has agreed with. And we knew going in that that would be the case, which was why we worked so hard to ensure that respect for religious freedom and religious conscience were enshrined within our laws.

If only the same respect for religious freedom and religious conscience existed everywhere.

I am disappointed in the Primates’ Meeting, but I am not surprised. I am disappointed and saddened that a Province that has taken a decisive step forward in equality and justice for all God’s people is deemed deserving of sanctions and a place on the naughty step, while Provinces are allowed to go unsanctioned and unchecked when their leadership supports and defends the state-sanctioned murder of LGBTQ+ people in their countries. And though I praise him for his doubtless moderating influence today, I still believe that Justin Welby could learn a thing or two from Scotland about speaking truth to power and being prepared to live with the consequences.

Mark Strange, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, said to the Primates’ Meeting today: “We will continue to play our part in the Anglican Communion we helped establish and I will do all I can to re-build relationships, but that will be done from the position our Church has now reached in accordance with its synodical processes and in the belief that Love means Love.” His full statement is available on the SEC website.

We are very proud of Bishop Mark here. Do not think for a minute that any decisions taken in Lambeth today make the Scottish Episcopal Church any less the Anglican Communion.

And nor should we make the mistake that the Archbishop of Canterbury did this week in GQ magazine of believing that the differences between Western Anglicans and Anglicans in the global South are a black and white issue.

In my speech to General Synod in June, I reminded Scottish Episcopalians that there are people beyond our borders who have cheered us on, who have prayed for us to shine a light into the places on Earth where our LGBTQ+ brethren and their allies live and too often die under the darkness of systems that oppress and persecute. I told them that we do a disservice to our sisters and brothers around the Communion when we presume that they are of one mind any more than we are of one mind, and that we do them a disservice when we believed that if we kept our mouths shut we would be keeping them safe. I called on them to do better, and do better they did.

In the next few days as I read the stories that a scandal-hungry media will produce about the gloomy portents and doomsday scenarios for the Anglican Communion, stories that will no doubt be fed into by some clergy who ought to know better, I’ll think of the Anglican Communion that I know and that it’s convenient for them to be blind to. I’ll think of the baptisms that took place in my cathedral this weekend, Scottish babies and African babies together. I’ll think of the marriages that have taken place before our altar and in the sight of God. I’ll remember the great group of the Nigerian community, many of them first generation immigrants, who have become part of our community, and who gathered together joyfully on Sunday with their families on that same altar for a blessing from their gay, fabulous, Scottish priest.

We are the Communion. We are the people of God and the living, loving, world-changing body of Christ. As we have been called in our task to the Church here we will still be, tomorrow and tomorrow and unto the ages of ages.

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Photo: Beth Routledge

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Angels

There is a story about a great holy war. There was a battle between the angels and a dragon, and the dragon was slain.

It is a glorious thing always when St Michael and all his angels come down to Great Western Road.

Today, we gathered people from all corners of the Anglican Communion, even Edinburgh, around one table. We welcomed three brand new small people into our community. We celebrated Nigerian Independence Day. Amid a great cloud of smoke and a blast of music, we ordained a young and faithful soul into the diaconate. There was a real live dragon too.

But the dragon was slain.

And when all the noise and joy and razzmatazz had died down, we looked back through the darkened church and there she still was.

A reminder that good is stronger than evil.

That love is more powerful than hate.

That light can never be defeated by darkness.

And that so long as there are people who have the courage to fight by their side, the angels will always win.

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On An Anniversary, A Letter To My Love

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One day in the middle of September 2007, I woke up at half past four in the morning and set off from my parents house to catch the rail replacement bus service to Scotland.

My application to the University of Glasgow had been on the flimsy grounds that Scotland was one of the few places to have not yet turned me down, and I had accepted their offer on something not much more than a whim. I arrived in the city in the still early hours of that Sunday morning to an already autumnal chill and a sense of not quite knowing what I’d got myself into.

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That was ten years ago today.

In New Zealand, the Maori people have a word, “turangawaewae”. Its literal translation is “a place to stand”, but there isn’t really a word for it in English. It means our places of being. The places where we feel connected to and the places we are empowered by. It is about how we choose to define ourselves. It means belonging and tribe. It means home.

So, here’s to you, Glasgow.

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My dear green place.

To your streets and bridges and waterways.

To the place where I found out who I am, and where I’ve learned to be who I want to be.

To strangers who became friends. To friends who became family. To the people who have made it worth it.

To tears and laughter and memories.

To the mountains and the air. To the spires on Great Western Road. To fish and chips on the beach in Largs. To the sun that shines on Loch Lomond. To the burning orange sky setting over the Clyde and rising from a hospital window.

To battles fought and won. To battles still to fight. To a world changed.

To the city that people make, from one who was taken in and made one of its own.

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My heart belongs to you.

Review: This Is Going To Hurt

Last month, I got my hands on a pre-release copy of This Is Going to Hurt, the medical memoirs of Adam Kay which were published this week.

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It had landed on my doormat when I arrived home on a Monday morning after my first set of nights as the medical registrar, which was also the first weekend after August changeover and therefore my second shift working in a hospital so unfamiliar that on leaving induction two days earlier I had driven nearly as far as the ferry terminal to Troon before I realised that this probably wasn’t the road back to Glasgow. I left the book on the kitchen table, changed my shoes, and went in search of breakfast.

The next day, my day off for catching up on life admin and grocery shopping and for getting my body clock turned the right way up, I sat down and read the whole thing in one sitting.

Adam Kay is a writer and script editor of comedy. In a previous life, he was an obs and gyn registrar and is known to medical students all over the country as one half of Amateur Transplants. This Is Going To Hurt is taken from the diaries kept in his years of junior doctoring.

Now, the memoirs of doctors are ten a penny these days. We are required by our training boards and the GMC to reflect on our practice, and I suppose some of us think we may as well publish it. It would be disingenuous of me to say otherwise; you are after all reading my blog. I’ve read some of the ones that made it into book form, the oldest of which was published in 1992. (I have never read House of God.) I’ve liked some more than I’ve liked others. (This is unsurprising. I like some of my colleagues more than I like others.) This is the first one I’ve read that has made me want to invite it over to Sunday lunch with my four best loved doctors, and that is among the highest compliments of which I am capable.

My affinity with it exists on a number of levels.

It knows the value of a good footnote.

It’s written by someone who plainly loved his job and was good at it. (I realise that you might then ask why he left. That isn’t my story to tell.)

It’s funny and friendly. It reads as easily as a colleague telling me stories about their week, which I suppose is what it is. It contains at least a dozen anecodotes that sent me into a tailspin of, “oh, remember that time…”, which is the hallmark of good medic chat. Fair warning, one of those anecdotes contains a vagina, a railway spike, and Newtonian inevitabilities.

And it would be disingenuous of me to not admit that at least part of my affinity with this book comes from having read it just exactly when I did. Adam writes about what it’s like to be on nights, “sailing the ship alone: a ship that’s enormous, and on fire, and that no one has really taught you how to sail.” He writes about how as House Officers we all think that our registrars are geniuses, “like God maybe, or Google”, and the horrifying moment when, “before you know it, the registrar is you.” He writes about how as the senior on call he couldn’t sit down, but would “prowl anxiously around labour ward, flitting from room to room asking ‘is everything ok?’” It is a strange and immersive experience to read a book like this immediately after a weekend like the one I’d had. I kept thinking, “YES THIS ALL OF IT ALL WEEKEND,” and then looking up to say it out loud, only remembering after I already had that no one was actually in the room. The job I do is nothing like being an obstetrics registrar, apart for in all the ways that it’s exactly the same.

The existence of the book owes itself at least partly to the Secretary of State for Health. In his epilogue, Adam writes about the Conservative government waging war on doctors and his own realisation that everyone who works or has ever worked in healthcare needs to shout about the reality of the work that we do. His acknowledgements include no thanks whatsoever to Jeremy Hunt.

It isn’t a book about politics, except in the sense that we live these days in a time and a place when to tell the truth about being a doctor is a political act. For those of us who believe in what Nye Bevan believed, there is no option to be apolitical about healthcare. And there is no such thing as “just politics”, for, please, if the next generation learns anything from ours let it be the inconvenient truth that “just politics” was always a lie.

This Is Going To Hurt is written by Adam Kay and published by PanMacmillan. It is available now.

Sitrep, One Month In

It’s been just about a month since I started this job.

That’s four weeks since the night I drove to work reciting ALS algorithms in my head, and four weeks since I read a management plan that had been written by a nurse practitioner and got to the part that said “medical registrar aware” and got the giggles when I realised that they meant me. This weekend, I managed for the first time to tell someone I was the med reg without automatically putting a question mark at the end of it. It was only because I was trying to persuade them that I wasn’t the nightshift coordinator. I was neither of those things. I was trying really hard to go home.

The rest of you are all all right? FY1s, I’m mostly looking at you.

You’re okay? You’re eating and sleeping and going home? You know where to get help when you need it? (If you aren’t. If you don’t. If you just need to unspool for a little bit. My comments and contact inbox are open.)

For me, life at present can be summarised like so:

1) I haven’t been so consistently and thoroughly exhausted since the beginning of my FY1 year.

2) I’m buzzing. I have my tribe. I chose well.

3) I am really really glad I had a renal job in CMT.

Glasgow Pride 2017: Changing The World

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Photo: Beth Routledge. Badges: Kelvin Holdsworth.

One ordinary Thursday in June, my friends and I went to Edinburgh and we changed the world.

I’ve spent a great deal of time these last two months thinking about that day when the General Synod voted for marriage equality in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

This weekend, I’m going to be part of a great and glorious delegation of Scottish Episcopalians marching in the Gay Pride parade through the centre of Glasgow. I’ll be marching with clergy and laity. I’ll be marching with my LGBTQ brethren, and with the many allies who turn out to support us. I’ll be marching with people from around the Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway, and from across the Province, and from the General Synod Office. I’ve been sent with messages of support from the congregation that I represent, as well as friends around Scotland, friends from other provinces, and ecumenical and interfaith friends. This year as I march, I will remember particularly that we march with the personal blessing of the Primus and of each and every Bishop in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

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Photo: Gordon Smith

The world has changed so much since the first time I went to Pride.

It is not quite a decade since I met up with four other Scottish Episcopalians on a damp Edinburgh afternoon to march at Pride Scotia, our first one. It was just the four of us, and a couple of umbrellas that were losing the battle, and a vague notion that the Scottish Government might be persuaded to introduce legislation for what we then called gay marriage.

A few months earlier, I had got myself involved with the petition for that legislation. A group of people from St Mary’s Cathedral had taken clipboards and gone up to the University and told people that we were campaigning for equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, and we had been a little taken aback when everyone wanted to sign up. A friend and I had said to each other, “It won’t ever happen, but we have to try anyway.”

In 2008, there weren’t a lot of countries that had even thought about what we now call equal marriage. I have this idea that one day when I’m old and grey I’ll tell this story to people who aren’t born yet who simply won’t comprehend that, but it is the truth. It simply wasn’t a thing.

But as the law went through the process of being debated and voted on in the Scottish Parliament, the idea started to take hold on an international level. My involvement in this campaign in Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church has spanned a time that saw the New Zealand parliament singing a Maori love song, and all of Ireland going home to vote, and the interns delivering the news on the steps of the US Supreme Court, and the day it was made the law of the land in Westminster in the country I was born in. It was a time that felt as if the beacon of equality and justice was lighting up the world. It was also a time when we started to notice that Pride seemed to be getting bigger. We were still a ragtag group, but a larger one, and now we had our own banners. The first year we had banners, I made them with felt tip pen and sticky tape on my floor on the Friday night.

And it was during that time, while it was still being debated in Holyrood, that the time seemed right to start making some noise in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

We still didn’t believe it would happen in the Scottish Parliament, mind you, but the Church was being asked to give its opinion and we thought that if we were giving opinions then we might as well be honest about it. If marriage equality were to become the law of the land in Scotland, there were members of the Church who would want it to be possible in church. That was our truth. And so it began.

Said the same friend and I to each other, “This won’t happen, either. But we have to try anyway.”

I still believed that in June. I still believed it in the coffee break between the vote and the result on that ordinary Thursday, and I still believed it as the votes were announced and I did frantic maths. I believed that this day would never come.

Why am I telling this story on the evening before Glasgow Pride? Why am I dwelling on a time when I thought we were going to lose?

I’ll march at Pride this weekend, and I’ll be proud of who we are, and proud of what we did, and proud to stand behind a banner that proclaims to all the world that the Scottish Episcopal Church Welcomes You, and proud that I can say, and mean it, “Yes. Yes. You.

But the thing I will be proudest of all is that we thought we were going to lose, and we did it anyway.

It is a thought worth holding onto, in these days.

Because nothing that means anything comes without risk.

Because the victories worth having are never in the sure things.

Because the losing battles are the ones that need fighting most.

And because changing the world is not in the winning, but in the knowing you might not and then trying anyway.

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Photo: Beth Routledge. Artwork: Audrey O’Brien Stewart.

#tipsfornewmedregs, please

On Thursday, I said goodbye to the staff in my current medical receiving unit. I’ve worked with a lot of them for four years, on and off. I’m certain I’ll be back again, someday. I pop onto the ward at the beginning of next week for a couple of days, and then on Wednesday it’s all change.

New commute. New colleagues. New corridors to get lost in. New job.

The first Wednesday in August — as it was in the beginning, is now and shall be forever, world without end.

My final weekend before changeover will be spent doing an online induction module, building furniture, and taking deep breaths.

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This is what the inside of my brain looks like right now.

I’m pretty sure the new FY1s think they are the only ones who are nervous.

I am thirty-two years old and have a hip that aches if I sit cross-legged for too long, and yet every summer I still get ready for my first day at new school and worry if the other kids will like me.

So.

If anyone has any #tipsfornewmedregs, this would be the time.

People Make Bad Choices If They’re Mad Or Scared Or Stressed

All over the UK, newly graduated medical students are starting to look ahead to the first Wednesday in August and their first day as Actual Proper Doctors.

If they are anything like I was, they’ll be having increasingly terrifying nightmares about holding the cardiac arrest bleep on their first night. And getting lost. And they’re the only one on the arrest team. And they can’t remember how to do CPR. And there’s a dragon in the corridor. No? Just me? OK.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a long piece that contained practical advice for new doctors. If you are a new doctor and you are looking for bullet points on where to get help, how to ePortfolio, the unsettling but central role that half-coloured in ticky boxes will come to play in your life, and other things, that piece is here and still contains the best advice I have to give. Over on Twitter, search the #tipsfornewdocs hashtag, and remember that we all remember this and that almost none of us bite.

Today, I want to talk about something a little bit different. I want to take a bit of time to think about resilience and self care.

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The idea of ‘resilience’ is a psychological one that has to do with the capacity of the collective and of the individual for what I’ll call ‘coping’. It was defined by Andrea Ovans in the Harvard Business Review as “the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity”. In the last few years, it’s developed into a buzzword in the language used to talk about and to public sector workers. The first time I became aware of it as a thing that was being said to doctors was during the junior doctor contract negotiations in 2015.

Now, the first thing to say is that I’ve never met a junior doctor who didn’t possess resilience. It is a requirement of the job. It is a requirement of getting the job. So, the second thing to say is that when the government talks about junior doctors not having resilience, they are lying.

But if what they mean is that junior doctors have proven increasingly unwilling to be actual martyrs — well, yes, that might be true, and that might also not be a bad thing.

As a teenager, I wanted to be John Carter from ER. I wanted to live all the hours in the day for my job. There is a picture of a recruitment poster for Emergency Medicine going around at the moment that invites applicants to “choose surviving on coffee and adrenaline”. It is a terrible message to send, but half my life ago it was absolutely what I wanted for myself. And even as a slightly more elderly medical SHO, there are days when that kind of thinking still has its seductive qualities. On the seventh day in a row of thirteen hour days, I can enter a mental state that is some sort of meld of beautifully Zen and utterly psychotic. I know all my patients inside out and back to front, and half the patients of the other teams, too, and I am completely on it and, look, I just live here now and I’m pretty sure that’s actually fine. (I have a bad-coffee-and-sleep-deprivation-fuelled memory of this precise thought process going through my brain, about eighteen months ago, and also I think I was skipping down a corridor at the time.)

It is perfectly possible to live like this for short periods of time. I clearly do and so do lots of other people, not all of whom are doctors. It is not sustainable. A period of work like that has to be punctuated by a period of rest and rejuvenation, or else the whole thing falls apart. I love my job, but my capacity to do it for thirteen hours a day without a day off is not infinite. I believe that that is true of any human in any job, no matter how much they might love it.

It is partly because no one has an infinite mental or physical capacity. In this job, that part of it is a patient safety issue as much as it’s anything.

It is also partly because you do eventually go home from your job, and it is at that point that you remember there is no food in the fridge and that you have no clean pants.

And that’s the part we don’t hear about enough when we hear about resilience. We don’t hear about self care: about how to keep ourselves alive and fed and sane and happy. In fact, we too often hear the opposite of that: that to do the things we need to do to take care of ourselves is selfish or lazy or uncommitted or in some way not being a team player. That is a perception that I want to challenge.

*

First, put on your own oxygen mask.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. (Wikimedia Commons)

There are lots of ways to look after yourself well, and I can only talk about what works for me and what hasn’t worked for me. This is the part that is non-negotiable. You need to eat. You need to drink. You need to sleep. You need to put on your own oxygen mask first. You need to remember to go to the toilet.

I am pretty sure that if anyone had said any of that to me in the week before I started FY1, I would have rolled my eyes too. I was worried I might accidentally kill someone, not that I might forget to pee. Trust me, you will forget to pee.

The need to eat and drink and sleep is about more than keeping yourself alive. It is about that, too, of course, but it’s also because everything seems so much worse when you haven’t.

This is a crap job, sometimes — for all sorts of reasons. A tip of the hat to @DrTonyGilbert on Twitter who aptly described this as “those nights where you’ve been punched and your shoes are full of ascites and you think, ‘I could’ve worked in a bank'”. The world will be much more manageable on the other side of a good meal and eight solid hours of sleep. I’m not saying those things will fix everything, but they will make most things look a lot less dire.

So:

  • FY1s cannot live on coffee and Mars bars alone.
  • Eat breakfast. You don’t know when you’ll next get a chance to eat.
  • But do eat lunch. There are really very few things that can’t wait until you’ve eaten a sandwich and had a drink.
  • If you can get off the ward for a break to eat lunch, do that. The days when you eat with a sandwich in one hand while writing a discharge letter with the other hand will come, but they should be the exception rather than the rule.
  • Drink. If your patients’ kidneys need fluid, so do yours. The correct response to, “Doctor, Mrs Jones has only passed 30 mls of urine in the last 3 hours,” should not be, “Well, that’s more than I have.” Get a reusable water bottle and use it.
  • Meal plan. If you can make food with leftovers, you can come home from an on call shift and have a home-cooked meal in the time it takes to transfer a plate from the fridge to the microwave. This is a wonderful thing. It also means that you’re less likely to collapse on your bed and fall asleep without eating.
  • The existence of supermarkets that will provide you with ready-prepared food and people who will bring delivery food to your house is evidence of the kingdom of heaven on Earth. It isn’t sensible to live off them, perhaps, but they have their uses.
  • Comfy shoes. Get some.
  • Take care of your physical health. Register with a GP. If you are a doctor with a chronic illness or a physical disability, take the time you need to take care of that. A friend of mine, Dr Beth (no, we are not the same person), wrote a blog post recently about this which was aimed particularly at doctors who have diabetes but which I think is worth reading for everyone.

Learn how to say no.

Take your days off. Take your annual leave. If your work emails are connected to your phone, learn how to unsync them.

There will always be situations where someone needs a shift to be covered on short notice. People get sick. People have family emergencies. Rota coordinators fail to take into account the fact that the staff grade’s contract was only for six months and ended last week. You will end up being the person who covers these shifts some of the time. You do not have to be the person who covers these shifts all of the time.

At some point, you will be asked to participate in rota monitoring, where you fill in a form for a couple of weeks with your rota hours compared with your actual hours. Your Trust is supposed to use this to ensure that your rota is legal, that your department is staffed appropriately, and that you are being paid correctly. If you are asked to work differently to your usual practice or you are asked to lie about your hours, say no to this too. (However, do not expect the person from the rota monitoring department to understand your job. I gave up fighting that battle on the day one of them tried to insist that I should be leaving the cardiac arrest bleep behind when I went to eat lunch.)

Likewise, there will always be work that needs to be done outside of normal work time. This will sometimes be valuable, and sometimes not. Like the online induction module that even as I type I am side-eyeing in my learnPro account, which will take time that I could instead have spent learning something about cardiology before I commence my six month cardiology rotation. The point is, there are exams, and ePortfolio, and quality improvement projects, and things to read and learn. This isn’t entirely a bad thing. It is part of what being a professional is. But develop some sort of system to deal with it so that it doesn’t end up taking over your whole life, because it absolutely will if you allow it to.

Don’t forget to look after your mental health, too.

There are lots and lots of doctors who have mental illness. It is not a shameful thing. It is not an unusual thing. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. You will not be the only doctor who takes medication to maintain your mental health, or sees a counsellor or a psychiatrist or goes to therapy. Do what you need to do to keep well, just the way you do for your physical health.

If the above does not apply to you, don’t presume it never could and don’t ever be ashamed to ask for help.

My sanity has been saved — so many times and in so many ways — by having brilliant friends.

If you are struggling, please talk to someone.

If you think you aren’t struggling, please talk to someone anyway.

Your most readily available resource is your colleagues. You may not have met your fellow new FY1s, yet, but you will become each others’ most reliable support. (The thing about getting off the ward for lunch if you can? It’s even better if you can get lunch together.) There is no one who understands this weird job like the people who are going through it with you. Use your seniors. Your educational supervisor is there to support you, not just to tick boxes on your ePortfolio. If they aren’t supportive or you think they’d be difficult to talk to, there are other consultants. If that seems too intimidating, your regs and SHOs did this not too long ago and I promise most of us are nice. The administrative staff, too. In my FY1 year, it was known that our postgraduate administrator’s office door was always open for a cup of tea and a biscuit and a bit of a cry and I think we all took her up on that at least once.

You won’t be the first person to have cried in a sluice; that’s what sluices are there for. If you cry in the sluice every day, that’s not okay and please talk to someone.

It is okay to not be okay, but people won’t know you need help unless you tell them.

Do the things that make you happy.

I suppose there is a professional bit to this, about finding your niche and finding your people and not worrying when you don’t like every single rotation you do as an FY1 or even FY2. I’m pretty sure that I grew up thinking it was all “being a doctor” and I know that I have friends and family who pretty much still think it’s all “being a doctor”, but one of the brilliant things about medicine is that it’s all so very different. I think that’s all true, and you’ll do that.

But what I really wanted to say was, remember that you’re still a person as well as a doctor.

I can’t tell you what it is that makes you happy.

The things that make me happy include but are not limited to:

  • Real books
  • Sunday dinner with people I love
  • Running around the parks of Glasgow or along the Clyde with music or a podcast and the sound of my feet on the tarmac
  • The work I do in “my” cathedral
  • Taking the extra five minutes in the morning to make real coffee
  • Cats who like to give me Eskimo kisses
  • A knotty bit of Beethoven and the adrenaline rush from singing it on stage
  • Netflix and Yarn

Your list will not look like that. You will have your own list. But remember to find the time and space to do the things that make you happy.

*

Listen, I am not good at all of this and some weeks I am not good at any of it.

You are about to do a thing that is real and hard and that you can never be properly prepared for, not really. For the first few months, you will be more tired than you have ever been in your life. You are going to do a job that is brilliant and terrible, and that will give you unsurpassable highs and will also completely break your heart. You owe it to yourself to look after yourself while you are doing it.

And for when absolutely everything else fails, I always keep emergency ice cream in the freezer. It’s a start.

This Is What’s Next

You all already know how this story ends.

The endings are rarely the interesting parts. Did you read the first six and a half Harry Potter books to find out that the good guys win in the end? (Uh: Spoilers.) You did not.

It started on a hotel balcony in Madeira. I had deactivated my NHS email account in the baggage check queue at Glasgow Airport, but the second last thing I’d done before flying away for a week to a warmer, sunnier annual leave than was offered by February in Scotland had been to submit my application to higher specialist training in Acute Medicine. And because I am paranoid, I had submitted the application under my personal email address. Under a cloudless Portuguese sky, my phone buzzed. I had been long listed and I would hear about an interview in due course.

Or it started in the medical receiving unit of a Glasgow hospital that no longer exists. At quarter to eleven on a Saturday night a few summers ago when I hadn’t sat down all day and had clearly not yet made it home to my rapidly cooling pizza and I realised that this, this, was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Or it started in the medical receiving unit of a dozen other hospitals scattered hither and thither across the West of Scotland where through my years at medical school and in the Foundation Programme they had welcomed me in and given me work to do and shown me the nuts and bolts of how to be a doctor for real, and, where I had learned that, if you wanted, this was what you could do with the rest of your life.

And then it was spring and I was back under a Scottish sky, the April version of which is every little bit as steely-grey and rain-saturated as the February one. I had spent the previous two weekends printing out and putting together the required portfolio of evidence, a folder that might have served well as a blunt weapon if I’d run into a riot on my way to the East. I had spent evenings pacing my living room floor, trying to formulate an answer to the question, “Why do you want to do Acute Medicine?” Ideally, one that wouldn’t make me sound deranged. I had spent the previous evening as the SHO on call for oncology, replacing venflons and trying not to pull out all of my hair.

An early morning train to Edinburgh. A heavy wodge of paperwork. My good suit, and my lucky socks, and my very best terrified face, and a pressing concern that I shouldn’t vomit all over myself.

The most significant days of my life seem to begin thus.

It is five years since I graduated from medical school. I have just about persuaded myself that I really am a real doctor. I mostly don’t have the urge to giggle anymore when I introduce myself as one of the doctors, and most days these days I don’t actively expect to be stopped in a corridor by someone there to tell me that my finals results were all a terrible mistake. But as a brand shiny new junior doctor, I remember believing that the registrars were really the real doctors. They were proper adults and were very organised, and they knew everything. If it all went wrong and I needed to call someone (or maybe just scream really loud), the med reg would come. I still believe all that, and because I still believe all that I do not in any true sense believe that I am qualified to be one.

This is an awkward thing to not believe when you are on your way to a job interview.

But there is a little bit of point of no return to this kind of thing, and on I went through the door of the Radisson on the Royal Mile, my black suit and green-tinged face incongruous amongst the gaggle of short-and-T-shirted and frostbitten-looking Americans, and my imposter syndrome out in force.

An interview for a medical training post begins with an administrator who checks through all the documentation, and there is a lot of documentation. There is proof of identity and proof of registration with the General Medical Council, and, even though being on the GMC register in the first place depends upon your having one, your original medical degree. My original medical degree is A3 sized and entirely in Latin. And then there’s that blunt weapon of a portfolio, which contains proof of everything you have ever claimed to have done including things which are wholly unrelated to medicine. Two years ago in my interview for Core Medical Training, they asked what I was proudest of that was unrelated to being a doctor and I had to decide to talk about changing the world because I suspected no one would have believed me if I’d said, “being Ginger Rogers except with a thurible”.

My fellow interviewees and I took our places outside closed doors, waiting for the knocks that would signal the beginning of our half hour of torture.

“Why do you want to do Acute Medicine?” asked a consultant who I’d not met before.

I did sound deranged. But as the Cat said, we’re all mad here: we must be, or we wouldn’t have come here. I decided to go with it.

After ten minutes — and I think that at some point in those ten minutes I flapped my arms around and tried to design an ambulatory care service out loud — there came another knock. I gabbled out a run-on sentence about — oh, who am I kidding, like I have any memory of it. And ran.

The same corridor, another door. Andrew Lloyd Webber probably wrote a song about that. This time, I had a card to read about the clinical scenario that I would be presented with when I entered the room. An elderly man presenting with collapse, ?cause. This was more straightforward than any of the scenarios I had been trying to revise, which immediately sent me into a sort of flailing tailspin. My panic did not improve when I entered the room to be greeted by a man who used to be my boss and the information that he would be playing my 75 year old patient. I wish I could tell you what I said. I really do. I remember that I mustn’t have taken any time to organise my thoughts, because I vividly remember that I got a good third of the way through before I stopped and apologised and announced that I was going back to the beginning and starting again. I also vividly remember that the interviewer who wasn’t doing the roleplay looked thoroughly relieved after I had made this announcement.

Back in the corridor, waiting for the signal to enter the last room. Footsteps. A bang.

“Housekeeping!” a voice shouted.

We three candidates abruptly tried not to meet one another’s eyes, lest we giggle. That answered the question that had been niggling at the back of my mind ever since I’d arrived earlier that morning — been directed away from the business centre, been surprised when guest-looking people stepped out of the lift with me, noted empty trays and copies of the Times lying on the carpet outside rooms that were right next to the rooms we were all going in and out of. It seemed that we were indeed having our job interviews conducted in what were usually hotel bedrooms.

Not quite so weird as that one time I sat a postgraduate exam in a football stadium, but quite weird enough.

And then I ended with five minutes to conduct a “driving advice” conversation with a twentysomething professional HGV driver who had been newly diagnosed with diabetes, or so my card said. But when I made the mistake of asking an open question, he turned out not to yet know that he had diabetes at all. “This is a conversation that I’d normally take longer than five minutes to have but I’m on a timer here,” I tried frantically to project with my eyes to the consultant playing my HGV driver as I talked at speed.

Even this far on this side of knowing what the outcome was, my strongest memories are of all the spaces where I forgot to say things.

The end of the story is that I was disgorged back onto the Royal Mile, befuddled and blinking in the sun that had finally come out.

The beginning of the story is that in a little under three weeks, I’ll be a specialist registrar in Acute Medicine in the West of Scotland, spending the first year of my training in a district general hospital and my first six months trying to learn something about cardiology.

The end is where we start from.

Changing The World

It was good to be back home on Sunday.

It felt good to walk back into my cathedral, into a place that has become very much my home, and to be asked the questions that I have always been asked when I’ve returned to it from Synods and for my answer, this time, to be, “Yes.”

The Provost, the Vice Provost, and I held a Forum conversation after the Eucharist on Sunday morning, to try to explain what precisely it was that happened in Edinburgh last week, and a large number of the congregation were interested in hearing about that. The short answer is, something more complex and with a great deal more nuance than you’ll find in the newspaper headlines. The longer answers are contained in the following video:

I suspect I have not yet said my last word on the subject. I have a lot to reflect on, about the journey the Church has been on, the extraordinary journey that I’ve been on and the extraordinary people I’ve been on it with. This campaign has changed me in ways that I can’t yet begin to explain. In time, there will be more work to do, a new chapter — the business of changing the world goes on and it is business that I intend to be part of for a very long time indeed.

It will take time to reflect on all that. For now, I’m taking a little bit of time. To unpack. To let all the emotions of the last week and indeed all the emotions of the last eight or nine years settle. To allow the significance of this enormous thing that we did to sink in.

And to think about what’s next.

Because at the end of everything that had happened, Jesus said to his disciples, go, go and change the world.

The video content of this post is copyright St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow: http://thecathedral.org.uk.