I have had time to reflect on the different curveballs medicine has given me in my career so far and one that sticks out for me is the day I quit! It was quite a surprise to me that things got that bad but more so that I had the guts as a junior doctor to call it quits and basically risk it all.
I was working in a small country town in Victoria as a surgical resident when this unfolded. Now surgery and many surgical rotations come with very long hours. It was completely normal to start work at 7am (having arrived earlier to organise everything for the morning ward rounds) and then work the whole day and occasionally be in charge of ward patients until 8-9pm to hand over to the doctor doing nightshift. Occasionally, when there was a really sick patient or you were in theater assisting in surgery, you might actually still be in the hospital until about midnight knowing you have to get home, shower, eat, sleep and try and get ready for the next day when you do it all over again. Everyone was in the same boat and you did what you could to keep sane during this time.
My co- junior doctor and I had been doing the surgical rotation for a while when unfortunately our surgical registrar (the doctor immediately my superior) had to leave the hospital for personal reasons. It wasn’t long until we got a replacement registrar which was great although we had started to enjoy the added responsibility. Joy turned to horror when we realised that our new registrar was not really a team player as our old registrar had been. He would turn up late demanding that we do all our work and his, would only take phone call consults and not ever want to see a patient and he would spend all his days either in theatre or chilling in the staff room. This went on for a few weeks and we all sucked it up, looking forward to the time we would change rotations.
I then drew the short straw and had to work a weekend cover shift with him which I figured could not get any worse than his mid week antics.
I started bright and early, ready for the 14hr shift and before long things were going pear-shaped. I had sick patients to attend on the ward and he was in theatre and not interested in seeing anyone I was calling for help about. I then made an executive decision and called the consultant (team leader) to liase with him about the patients I was very concerned about. Word must have then filtered back to him in theatre that I had got help from the super boss and before long he was in my face, yelling and cursing me out for daring to ask for help when he clearly was not going to help.
As I stood there in shock and failing dismally to control my emotions, I thought “Fxk this Sx*t, I cannot be subjected to all this abuse for caring enough about my patients to ask for help” and decided to quit!! I packed my bags, told the surgical nurse unit manager that I was going home and that they should find someone to complete my shift. I called human resources manager and told them I had just quit. I walked home and spent the rest of the day in tears. I had never been humiliated, yelled at and cursed out for being chocolate skinned like that in my medical career and even though I believed I had done the right thing by walking away, I was not sure what to do next. It was the middle of a new term and getting a whole new job would be a nightmare.
The HR manager called back and between my sobs was able to understand the gravity of my decision. They spoke to all the witnesses of the yelling as well as the nurse unit manager who had been working in the ward that day. After feedback from all the nursing staff, who had apparently also written multiple complaints about the new surgical registrar, and feedback from the consultants and theatre staff, the surgical registrar was let go. I was informed of the managerial decision to let him go and asked if I could return to complete my contract.
Looking back, I am proud that I stood up against workplace abuse and even though was much junior in my training, was still able to make such a decision to protect myself. I regret that it took direct, humiliating verbal abuse to make that decision but sometimes you have to be pushed to take that leap.