After finishing school, I aspired to be a professional jazz musician. After a few unsuccessful auditions, I decided to take a gap year before starting a science degree at Melbourne University. Travel and work grounded me in the realisation that music was my passion rather than a profession. Thus, I began university initially in a rather undifferentiated state.
Exposure to anatomy, physiology and pathology made me realise my love for medical sciences. So, in my final year of undergraduate I sat the GAMSAT and applied for medical schools. My decision to do medicine was based on a love of medical learning, exposure to the positive impact doctors can have on their patients and the tangible gratification of the work.
Life in medicine in the 21st century is a complex and convoluted ‘choose your own adventure’ that junior doctors are supposed to intuitively navigate.
Many of my mates from medical school always knew what they wanted to do. It just felt right to them. Ah the complexity of choice! My problem has always been that I’m passionate about everything that I do. I love sport, music, learning, carpentry, gardening and cooking up a storm. As I started down my surgical residency, I had exposure to fantastic sub-specialty surgery but found I’d lost a part of myself living a unidimensional life spent almost entirely in the hospital. So, I decided to take some time to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up.
I bought a van, spent 3 months retrofitting it and headed off on a trip around Australia with an open heart and mind, a surfboard, and a stethoscope.
Doing locum work allowed me to fund the trip but more importantly allowed me to keep up my clinical skills on the road. I worked in Bairnsdale to avoid the floods, Lismore to get some ICU time, Gold Coast for 6 weeks of Orthopedics, and sunshine coast private doing ward cover. There were pros and cons to each place where I worked. On balance, the great people at each of the hospitals were the continuing highlight.
The biggest life-changing factor of the year off for me has been having time to reflect and decide what I want to do with my life and clinical career. Having space to reflect has allowed me to think through all the key considerations as to what I find meaningful and what I need in a job. From these reflections, I realised that despite the sometimes onerous time commitments surgical training was something I very much wanted to do. So, I decided to embark on the path to urological training.
On a personal note, locum work has allowed me time to travel internationally during which I’ve met my current partner, started a diploma in cuisine, re-started my triathlon training, and re-established contacts for an English urology research year I will be doing next year.
In short, I started out this year a bit lost and a year of locum work has given me time and financial ability to take a step back and re-evaluate my life plan. I’ve decided on a career path, re-ignited many of my passions, and fallen in love. If you’re reading this as a junior doctor who is lost, unhappy, or searching for more, I couldn’t advocate enough for taking a year to sit with the biggest question of our career and allow yourself enough quiet to hear the answer.
David Homewood is a Medrecruit locum doctor.