Helen Barratt: Back to reality

Helen BarrattReturning to full-time work after a year of studying has taken some getting used to. I’m slowly adjusting to my Outlook calendar running my life, and learning to survive the two hour meetings which are a regular part of life in public health. Lasting the course until 17:00 on Friday is still a struggle though. Although I’ve done some PCT work during my MSc holidays, I definitely got used to not having teaching every day, and I could certainly have done with some flexibility in my schedule recently, as we returned from holiday the other week to both a broken boiler and a small flood.
Now that the honeymoon’s over, as it were, I’ve been left reflecting on my decision a year ago to leave the wards. What do I miss? I suppose I miss the challenge of a complex patient, trying to elucidate their diagnosis, but I don’t remember this happening all that often in reality, amongst the chest pains and UTIs. I also miss the camaraderie of working with a close-knit team, which I enjoyed on many hospital jobs. Public health involves big teams, but the day to day work is actually quite solitary. I also quietly confess to missing the regular supply of free stationery from drug reps, albeit branded – I actually had to go out and buy a packet of post-it notes the other week.

At the same time, over the past couple of months my Facebook page has been cluttered with status updates from medical friends moving around the country for new posts, and adjusting to new rotas and working environments. I certainly didn’t miss that upheaval at the beginning of August. Additionally, despite the gentle reminders that Outlook keeps giving me, I really enjoy coming into work in a morning and organising my own time and tasks. I feel like I’m being stretched and making a valuable contribution here, not just chasing my tail, trying to complete a never-ending to-do list of patient jobs and admin. And I certainly don’t miss the inevitable call at 16:50 on a Friday afternoon to tell me ‘the man in bed 3 is having a “funny turn”.’

I’ve got used to conversations like the one I had the other day when I bumped into an ex-colleague: ‘Gosh… Public Health? Didn’t you want to do surgery? Conversations with the relative who asks me regularly if I’m bored yet, will – I suspect – take more time. However, I’ve no regrets about taking the leap into public health and, at the moment, wouldn’t put a stethoscope round my neck again if you paid me. I just need to build up my stamina for all these meetings.