The eight skills every junior doctor needs Years of studying and you’ve finally made it – you’re a doctor – and you couldn’t be more happy. Until your first day of the job that is, when you realise the ‘medical honeymoon’ is over. With time and experience, it will get easier. Until then, here are eight skills every junior doctor needs: 1. Learn how to cope with stress Being a doctor may well be the most stressful job on the planet and you will be exposed to a great deal of stress in your working life. You will need to find safe and healthy ways to manage your stress levels so that they don’t get out of hand or start to affect your work or home life. For some this might mean yoga or meditation, for others, reading a novel, watching a comedy or going for a walk on the beach. Everyone will have their own unique ways of relaxing and coping with stress. Go with what is right for you. “I like to go bike riding and have fun with the dog; we go fishing and to the beach. Some weeks it’s easier than others, but I think the way to find balance is to give yourself permission to say no sometimes; whether that be to work demands or family demands.” Dr Karen Savery, Brisbane-based GP and Assistant Medical Educator. 2. Time management One of the most common challenges that junior doctors face is managing their time effectively. When you aren’t time-aware the work seems to be endless and can take priority over the rest of your life. It’s easy to fall into the mindset that being overworked is normal. But managing your time is crucial to your overall health and wellbeing, and therefore should be a priority. “You need to ensure you’re doing what is manageable for you and part of that is knowing when to say ‘no'” says Dr Joe Kosterich, a Perth-based GP with more than 20 years’ experience in the media. 3. Breaking bad news As with most skills, you will improve with experience. However, respect and empathy is key. Always give the message how you would wish to receive it. Be direct and informative, but also respectful and polite. If possible, ensure that your patient has someone to support them. If you feel the need to debrief, do so in a safe environment with a trusted and senior colleague, or contact your employee assistance program for help. “You need to debrief to that staff member who knows how difficult and aggressive a patient can be; or be light hearted about it, or use some descriptive words about how you feel. That stuff is important.” Dr Cameron Loy, GP, Metropolitan Remand Centre, Melbourne. 4. Develop your people skills There’s no such thing as the perfect patient. Obtaining honest and detailed information can sometimes be problematic, depending on how comfortable your patient is with you, how long you have had a relationship with them and whether there are any language or cultural barriers. However, developing your ‘soft’ skills, including empathy, active listening and finding common ground, can assist you to communicate effectively with your patients. “My GP has been a very positive influence on my family, helping my parents get through various illnesses. When I see other families, I remember what it was like growing up. That’s always at the back of my mind.” Dr Ben Mitchell, Brisbane based GP and GPTQ Medical Educator. 5. Take good care of your mind and body It’s simple really – for your patients to receive your full attention and proper care, you need to have enough energy and be in the best possible health, both physically and mentally. For all junior doctors, and doctors in general, a healthy diet, regular exercise routine and a good support network of colleagues, friends and family is highly recommended. “I am in a well-supported position. I live near the beach and near the mountains; it’s just glorious.” Dr Rebecca Lock, GP and Medical Educator, Sunshine Coast. “I always try to think and have reflection time and some recreation time. I love listening to classical music. That renews me.” Dr David Shaker, Obstetrician and Gynaecologist. 6. Make friends with the night As a junior doctor, being on-call is probably the most comprehensive part of your job description – you never know what you might be called upon to do. Being on-call will help you gain necessary experience and teach you how to make fast decisions. But a disrupted body clock and a lack of energy makes everything about your job much harder to achieve at night. There’s no one ‘right way’ to deal with night shifts but ensuring that you have had a good sleep and plenty of rest during the day and a protein-rich meal before starting can help. Make sure you take as many breaks as you can, but try not to overdose on caffeine – for most people, it will only make sleeping more difficult. “In a rural community, when there’s an accident, you are the doctor on-call and you meet the ambulance at the hospital. You don’t get the same degree of emergency work in the city.” Dr Trish Rathie, GP and Medical Educator based in Toowoomba. 7. Write it down Everything you need to know or remember should be written down. It’s impossible to remember everything you hear, and combined with exhaustion and stress, it’s easy to mix up the symptoms of your patients. Take clear notes and write down all the relevant information that you require – it will improve the quality of your work. “I enjoy preparing for presentations and the knowledge that it gives you. I’ve always had an interest in education. I love educating myself and I found that I had a knack for teaching others.” Dr Scott Preston, Stafford-based GP and District Coordinator, Metro North Sunshine Coast. 8. Take your breaks and holidays Don’t let your work consume you. Allow yourself to take a holiday and leave everything behind (including the mobile phone and email), so that you can return to your patients fully rested and ready to provide them with the best possible care. Remember to also take breaks during your shifts to improve your efficiency and focus. “I enjoy my time outside of work as much as I enjoy my time inside of work.” Dr Karen Savery. There is a lot to take on board, but it comes down mostly to practice and experience. Stay positive and ALWAYS ask for help or assistance when you need it.