Melody Redman: There may be challenges, but working in the NHS is a privilege

JIM'S eyes filled with tears as he lifted May close to his chest. His voice broke as he quietly said: 'I thought I had lost my girl.'

Melody Redman's career as a junior doctor has taken her to Sheffield Children's Hospital.

May, his four-week-old baby daughter, had been admitted to the hospital a couple of days earlier with a suspected severe infection.

May had become blue and motionless, having stopped breathing; she required immediate resuscitation. A fast-acting doctor saved May’s life, although Jim said that the seconds she needed dragged out like hours.

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On ward round, the registrar asked Jim how he was feeling. Jim’s reply was met by silent, respectful nods, as a relieved smile emerged on his face whilst he explained that May was now back to her normal, healthy self. We then all exchanged a smile; this had been a wonderful result from skilled healthcare professionals and appropriate NHS treatment, and May was nearly ready to go home.

As I walked uphill to the hospital earlier that morning, I had upped my pace to try and beat the rain, wondering what my day would be like. I had felt a wave of anxious nausea, worsened by the heat and humidity, but the feeling passed quickly as I re-focused on the tasks ahead: Pick up IT logins; go to ward for handover.

This was my first day training in children’s medicine, coupled with being my first day working in a new city. I had wandered around the hospital a couple of days earlier to try to figure out where the important areas were, but without a name badge my access had been fairly limited, and I had relied on a kind blonde-haired lady, Jo, to direct me to an area which wasn’t identified on the hospital map. Jo was the first person in the hospital I met this week.

Most of my colleagues spent the day in induction; whereas a few others and I received a brief description of the essentials and were allocated straight to the wards, supervised by senior doctors who knew the place inside out. Medicine is 24/7, and the ward still needed to be staffed appropriately, so not all doctors could attend induction on the first day.

My first task, however, provided me with a soothing familiarity – acting as the scribe. Scribing on ward round involves juggling thick, heavy folders, whilst cleaning your hands between patients, checking the patient’s medication prescription card and observations (heart rate, temperature, etc), and neatly recording the discussion, examination findings and plan, all whilst actively listening and maintaining your own ‘to-do list’. Accuracy is essential, and whilst we may joke about it, no one really wants to reinforce the stereotype of doctors’ handwriting being poor…

As we loitered around the nurses’ desk, formulating a problem list for our third patient, the registrar, who was four years further along in her training than me, asked if I had any prior experience in children’s medicine. When I confessed I’d never worked in this part of the region and never worked in this specialty, she must have sensed the hint of terror in my voice, and she whispered “You’ve picked a good career”. While I had some experience of children as patients in GP, A&E and in psychiatry, and have done theoretical paediatrics studying, I prepared how I could, but nothing compares to the practical experience of working within a speciality.

Eleni, one of the more senior doctors, asked me where I was from. When I told her I grew up in Yorkshire, she told me she emigrated to Yorkshire specifically because she heard we were nice and friendly. I immediately beamed, full of Yorkshire pride.

Little, friendly encounters with the staff happened throughout the day, easing me into my new workplace. Despite being busy with their own work, the nurses and the ward clerk all did what they could to help me where they could. The truth is, in medicine (like many fields), we all know what it’s like to feel like the new kid on the block, to get lost in long hospital corridors, and to try to master to the various IT systems.

As I wandered out of the hospital having completed my shift, Jo, the kind blonde-haired lady on the information desk I’d met earlier in the week, was doing a late shift. “I survived my first shift”, I cheered, as I wondered if she’d remember me and slipped my stethoscope and pager into my bag. We enjoyed a quick exchange, and she ended my day with a sweet offer: “If you ever need help finding your way around, I’m right here.”

The example of the wonderful free care we could deliver to May, and the kindness of Jo and the other staff, reminded me that despite the many challenges we face, working as a doctor in the NHS is a great privilege.

• Melody Redman is a junior doctor working in Sheffield Children’s Hospital. Names have been changed to protect anonymity.