Chapter 3.1: Discomfort zone

So I’m now in my final year, around 9 months from qualifying as a doctor in the NHS, and yesterday I had a tummy ache after eating too many cookies. Growing up is weird, but I promise I have a good life lesson from this.

Final year so far can be very succinctly summarised by this post’s title. Everything is just that little bit painful: emails are pouring in to an already engorged inbox, I have to get used to a new hospital layout for my placement and the ghosts of past exams have come to haunt my decile ranking (hint: it was not 1st).

It feels like I’m slowly being uprooted from my comfort zone, a mental haven with its roots in Cambridge, oblivious to horrors like travel, responsibility and actually prescribing things on the WHO pain ladder. For so many years I’ve been plonked firmly in this zone, soothed by a quick “sorry, I’m just the medical student” or “it’s okay, you’ll learn this for finals“. But, much like my chubby cat Niko, as comfy as a spot may be you’ll eventually have to leave when it’s time to sleep. Or for FY1. Either way you’ll be up in the middle of the night wondering when your next meal is.

BUT- the amazing thing is, I’m quite excited by it.

I’m reminded of that old mantra: “growth begins at the end of your comfort zone.” I think this is very much ever-present in medicine. When I look back, there are certain things I can do now that 18 year old me would be astounded by.

  • Taking histories and examining patients
  • Taking actual blood out of actual patients and actually knowing what the results might mean
  • Standing up when a patient or professional says something inappropriate

There are quite a few of these things, both large and small, that initially felt terrifying. However, through a combination of “flooding” (look up phobia treatments), bursts of motivation and that delicious nectar we call impostor syndrome, I’ve managed to develop these skills.

Was I comfortable when first digging around a patient’s vein with a needle? Absolutely not, I felt like my bowels were on a spin and drain setting and my hands were vibrating slabs of lead. However, putting ourselves in these situations forces us to struggle, to fail, to reflect and to go again.

I think we can all benefit from a little discomfort sometimes. I myself am pledging to make a list of things I’ve been putting off (revision topics, clinical skills, certain examinations, etc.) and make myself a little uncomfortable. After all, I’ll be working in the NHS in a year (hopefully), so I should get used to discomfort.

I’ll be starting this year out of Cambridge, working on Cardiology and then Acute Medicine. There are plenty of scary topics I’ll be jousting with but, as long as I have a good support network and pictures of the aforementioned cat, I think I’ll be okay.

It’s always good to know where your own line of comfort is. For me, it’s about 4 large co-op cookies.

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