Elizabeth Wortley: What the junior doctors’ strike taught me

Yesterday I came off the picket line having enjoyed some lively conversations with my colleagues. As passing drivers honked their horns in support, one of my colleagues observed that it’s a shame we don’t get together to provide more support for each other regularly. This started a discussion about our attitudes towards each other on a day-to-day basis.

I like to think I’m a nice person. I really did become a doctor “to help people” (and its’ interesting). But I have a confession… Sometimes I go on a rant about my colleagues from other specialities.

And I think if we all reflect, most of us would agree this is true. It’s a dirty truth that I’m hoping the experience of recent weeks and coming times will help reverse.

I know that I have put the phone down after what I think is a terrible referral and complained about my GP/surgical/A&E/midwifery colleagues. I have to say, I do sometimes wonder what people think paediatricians can achieve. Being referred patients because “they won’t take the medicine” or “I can’t get them to do a wee” will always bug me. I don’t have magic powers to make children do things. But indeed an experienced parent/nurse/paediatrician knows a few ways to try. And I’ve been the ST1 freaking out to my registrar about the same thing, before I’ve realised that seniority and experience allows you to find a sensible way around pretty much everything. Damien Roland, a paediatric A&E consultant, has written an excellent blog about how not to annoy a paediatric registrar.

This aside though, I am uncomfortable, and yet complicit, in how easily we blame a colleague from another speciality because it’s (for example) “typical anaesthetist behaviour.” We often ignore our own belligerence or style of communication in the process.

What I really enjoyed about today was chatting to colleagues who have the same ideas, concerns, and expectations as me every time they come to work, and want to do a good job in what are often highly stressful conditions. I have to admit I’ve never met a registrar or consultant who has said “Oh well, you see in our team we are annoying because we just don’t care about our patients,” but you wouldn’t know that from the way we talk about “The Others.”

So, again, I tell myself that from now on, this lesson has to be remembered. I remember re-tweeting this article a few months ago, when twitter was new to me, and it took a lot to make me say something. I’m sure this story talks to us all and the underlying message is one I’m trying to reiterate here.

My colleagues from a different speciality are friends in arms, allies I have yet to meet to fight whatever the battle in front of us may be: improving patient safety, a junior doctors strike or achieving excellent patient care. Today, when I go back to work, I will spread the real message of #oneprofession—every day we’re all on the same team, doing the best for our patients and each other, strike or no strike.

Lizzie Wortley is a paediatric registrar working in Northwest London who is interested in quality improvement, acute care, and particularly enjoys debating the psychology of doctors and patients.

Competing interests: None declared.