Monday, 2 July 2012

I get by with a little help...

...from my friends, and other medical students who I don't even know that well.

The burnout that I mentioned has really been affecting my ability to work. I'd got books out from the library, from which to re-learn everything I knew in January, and hardly opened them. When I did open them (following an extensive internal battle to make myself do some work), I either struggled to concentrate or just fell asleep. I needed to leech off other people's energy to get things done, as I didn't have any left of my own.

A few lovely friends had offered to help; I found this really useful. There was no internal battle to work, as I'd met with them specifically to work, so I had to do it, and they wanted me to. A friend played the patient and either invented a history or tookone from a book (book review coming soon!) while I played the doctor and took a full history, with OSCE-style strict time limits. Friends in my year who had passed everything gave advice on how I needed to improve my performance. I also practised examinations, such as orthopaedic joint examinations, again to time limits.

This was so helpful and avoided me having to motivate myself (unsuccessfully); I realised I needed more of this. But three friends couldn't provide the help between them, and I'd feel bad taking up so much of their time.

I posted a status on facebook asking if anyone could help over the weekend, and had conversation with a friend offering me advice, but nothing more. Eventually I realised that motivating myself was getting nowhere, and although having three friends to help was wonderful, it wouldn't see me through the exam. So I sent a facebook message to 16 other people, students in my year and the year below, good friends and less good friends. I explained my burnout and need for people to help, what I needed (extensive surgical knowledge not required!) and the times that I needed help. Within 24 hours I had seven wonderful replies, all encouraging and movtivating me, and each offering different times that they were free to help.

Just reading those replies made me feel that this huge task might be possible, that maybe there was a chance I could face this big exam with confidence, and succeed. All except one stuck to their word and came to help (the one who didn't, didn't live near and we hadn't made as concrete a plan), all for over an hour.

For a whole week I did no work on my own, and felt very little guilt about it, because I'd worked with nine different people, and the quality of the practice was so much better than anything I could do alone. Quality over quantity, number of hours less important.

I had a little further help the next week, to ensure that I maintained my history taking skills, which had improved greatly, becoming slick and fluent. I there had some confidence going into the exam, I  knew that I could do it because I'd done it many times before. There is nothing like preparation to grow confidence.

Failure lies not in falling down, but in not getting back up again. For me to get back up, I needed help. There is no shame in needing help, the failure is in not seeking help. Asking a whole bunch of people to help me was one of the best things I've ever done. If only I'd recognised the neeed and could have asked for it earlier. Oh, hindsight.

If you need help, ask, and keep asking. Ask for specifics - I told everyone what I needed, and when, in timeslots for people to choose (e.g. "I need Thursday evening, Friday morning and evening" etc). It was easy for people to help because they knew what I needed.

In paediatrics people sometimes talk of "the team around the child" (or the team around the family). I've had so much support the last two weeks it felt like the team around the [TTBAMS].

If I have passed, it will be thanks to all these lovely people, and because I asked for help.

That's "me" in the middle of the team huddle - having that much support feels amazing. (Thanks to the Nigerian football team for the picture)

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