An open letter to the newly enrolled junior doctors

Tuesday November 17 2020
Dr chris Peterson

Dr. Christopher Peterson

The enrolment and allocation of new intern doctors who just completed their medical school has been taking place.
While those who just completed their internships are also yet to be registered to practice in few coming days and today therefore, I have a message to everyone who is finally making this dream come true.
This letter is sent to you from someone who is exposed to experienced in this field, full of mixed memories of which some are not to be remembered while others need to be shared.
Dear junior doctors, as you are going to touch some other people’s lives, here is my message to you.
You are going to enter the wards, young, enthusiastic and full of trepidation. I remember clearly the mix of excitement, fear and the huge sense of pride at having completed medical school, but also a sense of embarrassment in not knowing how to do the job despite all the previous years of study.
The first year really is a period of contradictions, intensity but most of all of growth and transformation.
Dear junior doctors, always respect the fact that you have limitations. No matter how great or small your knowledge and skills, you can do a good job as long as you know and work within your limits.
This means, do what you know and how to do. Do not try things you have not learned about or have not had enough experience doing that might harm or endanger someone’s life. But use your judgment.
There are no expectations of you to know everything or get everything right in every instance.
No one working in your hospital will have this expectation of you, not the nurses, not the senior doctors and not even the patients.
Allow yourself the buffer that comes with being a junior doctor and permit yourself to not know the answer.
Practice saying, “I am a junior doctor, I am unsure of the answer, allow me to consult with a colleague or a specialist and get back to you.”
Dear young doctors, don’t forget to always update your knowledge. There is phrase which says, “A doctor is always a student. When a doctor thinks he is no longer a student, a doctor inside him dies.”
This is especially true to you young junior doctors who are yet to get experience.
Use every chance you have to learn more. Study whatever books or information you can lay your hands on that will help you be a better worker, teacher, or person.
Always be ready to ask questions to senior doctors or well experienced nurses or anyone else you can learn from.
Never pass up the chance to take refresher courses or get additional training.
Your first job is a teacher, and unless you keep learning more, soon you will not have anything new to teach others.
Dear junior doctors, what you practice will define you more than what you are preaching to your patients.
They say, doctors make the worst patients. Well, I myself always find it hard to deny this, but we can still be good examples to our patients.
People are more likely to pay attention to what you do than what you say. As a doctor, you want to take special care in your personal life and habits so as to set a good example for your patients and the society around you.
You tell your patients to abstain from toxic habits such like excessive alcohol intake or unprotected sex with multiple partners, make sure you yourself don’t do it. Get into good habits early! We expect our patients to heed our advice, keep up regular fluid intake, make time for lunch and don’t delay toilet breaks. Take this advice yourself.
You have a long career ahead of you. You want to be a well fed, well-watered, happy doctor, not a cranky burnt out one.
There really are very few contexts in medicine where you should be regularly forgoing lunch and bathroom breaks.
These are small things but observing them reminds you that setting boundaries for your own wellbeing is important and creates a healthier and better working environment.
Start to adopt this quality now and carry it with you in your career.

Tips on being a good junior doctor
1. Be organised:
Even though this may sound obvious, it is super important! As a doctor on the ward, it’s your job to know the patients. Keep a list of patients’ backgrounds and pending results.
2. Prioritisation:
The art of prioritisation goes hand in hand with being organised. Unwell patients are always the top priority.
You will constantly be asked to do discharge summaries and it often feels they are never ending!
Discharge summaries should be one of your top priorities. If beds are being blocked because one hasn’t been discharged in a timely manner then other people’s care will be compromised.
3. If in doubt – ask!
No question is a silly question! If you are unsure on why you are requesting a certain scan – always ask during the ward round. Not only will this ensure your request does not get rejected but you will also learn this way. It is so important to know why you are doing something as this makes it easier for others to understand why you have requested a particular scan or put in a particular referral to another specialty.


Dr Peterson is a medical doctor, based in Dar es Salaam.