Book Summary: Trust Me I’m a Junior Doctor by Max Pemberton

Trust Me I’m a Junior Doctor is a diary of Dr Pemberton’s first year as a junior doctor in which he reveals the truth about what it is to be a doctor and how his work makes him feel  through description of real patients’ conditions which he had to face in his first foundation year.

“Competent”, “confident” and “loves the pressure” are three phrases which describe the qualities needed to be a successful and inspiring healthcare professional, showing that the qualities of a doctor are partly natural, with increased resilience being taught through five or six years at medical school. Following my hospital work experience, this book reminded me about the fact that doctors must not become emotionally attached to their patients, and that there must be a differentiation between the doctor and their patient – “usually good at being detached; clinical”, “everything moves on” and “not carrying any drama of the previous one”. The book also proved that being a doctor is far from easy and showed that even after the training at medical school, you will not know everything about every condition (“I felt out of my depth at times”) as there is such a large variation in presentation of conditions, in different people.

The job of a doctor is not only in a surgery or hospital, but in all of society as shown through the quote “‘I’m on holiday’ I felt like screaming” when someone fell under a train, Dr Pemberton realised that he was expected to attend to this casualty even though he was on his way home after a very long and tiring shift at work.

It is important to remember that your own health is just as important as your patients’ health. I believe that this is often forgotten by doctors as they work endless hours, making them extremely tired and therefore dwelling on the negatives of their job. This can be seen through the fact that he could tell that his colleague felt “inadequate” and like a “failure” and exclaimed that he often felt the same way as a junior doctor. The feelings as a junior doctor are often negative due to the extensive hours of extremely concentrated work leading to many people quitting the job – “spent the weekend backtracking on all her career plans”. ‘She’ did not end up quitting due to her love for the job and satisfaction that she gets out of her job. This shows that many doctors realise the positive impact they have on people, further reiterated in “I don’t do it for the glory, I do it for the love of seeing my patients’ faces when they are well.”

Many qualities of a doctor cannot be taught like kindness and bedside manner, supported by the quote “there’s no assessment of whether someone will hold your hand and stay with you when you’re upset”. This highlights the importance of the interview in medical school applications to show your natural love and care for people.

A love for being busy is also very important and being able to stay organised as shown through the quote “constantly having to think ahead, juggle and plan the jobs that have to be done while moving effortlessly between patients”. In addition, this quote reminded me of what I saw at my hospital work experience where I noticed that however stressed and busy the doctors were, they always made time to speak to their patients and comfort them – not letting them know how truly stressed they are. Doctors are prepared to sacrifice their social life for their patients as they spend any time off “recovering from working”.

Problems in the NHS are highlighted in this book as Dr Pemberton explains about the strong emphasis on reaching NHS targets, taking over medical professionals’ ability to care for their patients – shown through an ambulance driver not being able to drive a man home when there were many ambulances not in use, “the mountain of paperwork and protocols means there is less and less time to spend with the actual patients”. Furthermore, we must provide better care for discharged patients in the future as many people, such as the elderly and homeless are extremely vulnerable once released from the safety of a hospital as shown through “Domestic violence is not medical. A head injury is. But teasing the two apart is incredibly difficult to do.” This leads to reoccurring patients in hospitals who use lots of the NHS’ resources. Dr Pemberton suggests that neglect may not be a case of poor healthcare assistants but of the NHS system due to its focus on meeting targets as “nurses’ time is increasingly taken up with reams of paper work rather than the job of actual nursing.” I found it extremely interesting that Dr Pemberton believes that nurses cannot prescribe medicine due to “cutting corners to reduce waiting times, to meet targets” “at no extra cost” rather than due to “clinical ability.”

I was reminded that getting into medical school is such an enormous challenge due to the fact it is impossible to be completely prepared for the interviews as there is “no set formula that can be easily copied” in approach to interaction with people. People must be understood in their “entirety” in order for a doctor to completely understand their medical condition, and to get them to open up to and trust them. Making a patient feel comfortable enough to speak to a doctor whom they may be meeting for the first time takes incredible “people skills”.

I learned so much from this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in finding out the true feelings of a doctor when treating patients.  It is easy to read as is written day by day in very short chapters and is very funny.


Emily Buchanan

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