Thursday, 14 January 2010

Let them eat cake

Something happened to me this week that has changed my perspective on what makes my job worthwhile. It has proved to be a momentous event, a milestone in my career.

Someone brought me a cake.
You may not immediately understand the significance of this, but you see it wasn't just any cake. It was a chocolate cake, it was made for one (sharing not an option) and it came in its own pretty little box so that I could take it away, without fear of spoiling, and devour it in the comfort of my own home. But there's even more to it than that. It came from a patient who I do not know particularly well, not as a christmas present and not for a birthday, but just because. It was delicious, but more than that, it made me feel valued and that made me feel good.

I remember an incident a few years ago at the end of a long, busy night shift on a general medical ward. There's a particular sensation that you get at the end of a night shift, when the daylight breaks and it is time to go home. You feel shattered, disorientated, a little dizzy and usually pretty nauseated. So there I was, feeling shattered, disorientated, a little dizzy and pretty nauseated, quietly making my way in the lift down to the ground floor and the way out. I had planned to pop into the ward on my way home to check one last thing but when the doors opened on level 3 I could not face it and stayed where I was. There were two middle aged patients in the lift with me (no doubt on their way for a cigarette); "Aren't you going to get out?" they interrogated accusingly - they must have seen me press the button for that floor. "No sorry, I've changed my mind" I replied. They glared at me and under her breath one of them muttered, "urgh, doctors".
I remember wondering why on earth I did this job.

But now it's clear. For me, job satisfaction is not just about helping people, seeing people get better or making a brilliant diagnosis (which is lucky as this doesn't happen terribly often). If I do all of that and the patient in question doesn't appear to appreciate it, I will feel frustrated. Clearly I am not the altruist I always hoped I was. So whilst I'm sure that this does not apply to all, my hypothesis for the many is this; that to get real fulfillment from a job, whether as a doctor, a teacher or an estate agent, or perhaps even to get fulfillment from life itself, you need to feel valued. In turn, to get the best out of people, you also need to show that you value them. And a chocolate cake seems as good a way as any....


  1. I found your blog by following a link from Jobbing Doctor and have just read it from the start.

    I am very much enjoying it and will look forward to your future posts.

    I read a whole bunch of online medical blogs as at the ancient (!) age of 34 I am hoping to go to medical school to become a doctor myself.

    I admit though, I don't completely agree that being valued is the be-all and end-all of a job or of life. I am currently in a job that I am greatly valued in but the work I do does not have any inherent value. This leaves me feeling empty and frustrated.

    So I would offer a slight change to your suggestion. Perhaps happiness and fulfilment lie not in being valued but in being overtly recognised as doing something of value (as it seems this patient did/does of you).

  2. Vicky thanks for your comment and yes, I'm sure you're right. Perhaps I have taken for granted that mine is a job where it's easy to see (usually!) the benefit of what you're doing.

    Good luck in getting a place in medical school. When I was thinking about becoming a doctor, a lot of people tried to put me off. I've done the same to others, but I have to say that now I've found a role I'm happy in I'm back to promoting mode!

  3. Vicky P

    Have you applied to medical school? If so where?

  4. @Pondering - in terms of persuasion/disuasion - I wonder if medicine is a bit like parenthood. On paper and with a rational hat on, it seems a bit of a raw deal but all the downsides can get wiped out in an instant with one precious moment and just working towards that next moment is often enough.

    @Fuddled - A couple of London GEPs, Bristol and Cardiff. Have one interview offer and one rejection under my belt so far.

  5. Oops - please excuse spelling/waffling - am doing Chemistry A2 revision while high on tea and chocolate!