“It’s sink or swim, and you have to learn how to swim because otherwise a ton of patients sink with you. I actually found it all perversely exhilarating. Sure it was hard work, sure the hours are bordering on inhumane and sure I saw things that have scarred my retinas to this day, but I was a doctor now.”
Published in 2017, This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor is a collection of diary entries by Adam Kay, a junior doctor from 2004 until 2010 who worked for the NHS before a devastating experience on a ward caused him to reconsider his future. Selecting a variety of his experiences throughout his training, This Is Going to Hurt gives a first-hand account of life as a junior doctor, from the highest highs to the pain, sacrifice and life-altering situations that come with working on the front line of the NHS in its current crisis.
There are really only two words that can describe this book and they are both quoted on the cover: This is Going to Hurt is both painfully funny and painfully heartbreaking.
The book was originally published as a rebuke to Jeremy Hunt, the UK’s health secretary’s, remarks from a few years ago when there was a massive debate over junior doctor’s working conditions and pay. We’ve all heard nurses and doctors talk about how over-worked they are, but This is Going to Hurt really hits home about the realities of it. At one point, Kay highlights that the £3 an hour parking meter outside the hospital was earning more than he was.
A tale of brutal hours, poor pay, and a crippling shortage of staff, it is a revealing portrayal of the day-to-day life of a junior doctor that is a vital read in our current times. It’s not only interesting to learn about the effects that working so many hours has on their home lives, which Kay talks about with brutal honesty, but it’s also insightful to the see the effects of such a demanding job on the patients.
To give one example, Kay discusses a patient going undiagnosed when he had actually been dead for a few hours already. It really is shocking to learn about the pressure they are put under, but also the expectations they are forced to meet, of how much is expected of them in a job they have barely been trained in, whilst also having to balance the menial day-to-day tasks of being a trainee.
This is Going to Hurt is an easy book to read as Kay is naturally very funny. It’s always funny to hear about the comical stories that doctors witness on a daily basis – the foreign objects stuck in a suspecting hole or an injuring caused when doing something one probably shouldn’t – but there are so many sides to a doctor’s day that you couldn’t begin to imagine. Working in gynaecology, as well, many of the stories are funny, all of them are informative, but some of them are also deeply upsetting.
The book starts off with Kay explaining that he has since given up his role as a doctor after a devastating experience on the ward causes him to reconsider his future. It’s not until the end when we find out what happened to break his love for the job so it’s always building up to that revelation, but there are many heartbreaking scenes up until that point to take you on a real journey of the highs and lows before the final hit.
This is a book that speaks volumes. It doesn’t have to do anything but simply tell us the truth. After reading it, you will have so much more respect for the NHS – which is truly the UK’s best asset – and you will never take your GP for granted again. Doctors are real people too, and boy are they dedicated!