Domhnall MacAuley: The UMT generation reaches middle age

Domhnall MacauleyRemember the UMT* and a one in three. Holiday rotas to cover each other. Going to theatre to hold the retractor. Endless lists on scraps of loose paper. Morning toast in the ward on a night on call. Drips that tissued, catheters blocked, and phone calls at midnight to write up sedation.

Going to work Friday for a weekend on call. Continuing Monday to start the new week. Eating for comfort and sleep deprivation. Waking to bleeps having slept in the chair. Grabbing a moment to slip into bed. Pockets of blood bottles, lists of new patients. Searching the wards for coffee and biscuits.

Consultants so old, the age of your parents. Ward sisters caring for juniors and patients. Regs who sighed when you rang them at night. GPs who phoned when you screwed up the script. Your significant other was the bleep operator. And home was a white coat weighed down with your kit.

Lifts whining skywards in the cold dead of the morning. Hospital ghosts nodding blanks to each other. Feet so hot that they ached when you walked. A future mapped out in the back of the journal. You mortgaged your youth for the promise of now. You got there, you made it, is this your reward?

*UMT—pronounced “umpt” was short for Unit of Medical Time. A generation of junior doctors were on contract for 40 hours and their overtime contract was paid by UMTs. Each UMT was 4 hours and was paid, if I remember correctly, at 1/4 of the daily rate. So, for example, a junior doctor contract might have been for 11, 12, or perhaps more UMTs  depending on your rota.  A typical contract may have been for  40 plus 12×4 hours—88 hours, of which 48 were paid at 1/4 of normal rate—which per hour was not a lot.

Domhnall MacAuley is primary care editor, BMJ