“I’m a Junior doctor - here’s why we’re striking”

Could you tell me a bit about you and your life?

I am a Junior Doctor working in the NHS. I've been a doctor for 8 years, am 2 years into my specialty training and have a further 2 years before I can become a consultant in my chosen field. My husband is also a JD (a year ahead of me, but 3 years left until he's a consultant). We're in our mid 30s, with no children and two giant cats. We managed to finally buy our house 3 years ago in a place somewhat commutable to the area in which we train.

What made you want to go into medicine?

I actually started off on a completely different career path, and had completed a masters in Research before I applied for post-graduate medicine. A lot of my research was patient focused and I loved it. I had also volunteered at my local hospital with someone already at medical school who encouraged me to apply.

Have you been striking and if so, why?

I have. It’s not a decision that I, nor my colleagues took lightly, and it’s very difficult to fit everything into one concise answer. I love my job, but the government has run on the NHS workforce’s goodwill for too long. Our pay has been progressively eroded for years, not keeping up with inflation, or the cost of living. To clarify - we are asking for pay restoration, not a rise.

There is a general misconception that doctors are well-off. We are perceived as money-hungry, lazy, complaining etc, but we are paid a salary nowhere near reflective of the time, energy, skill, responsibility and sacrifice we put into our jobs. We graduate with some of the highest debts, but with the real time decrease in our salaries it's likely we will never pay them off. We work an average 48 hours per week, which doesn't include the hours we stay late due to staffing issues or unwell patients - and not to mention the time spent revising for exams, audits,  research etc.

And while all of this is expected of us in order to complete training, no time is allocated to allow us to do it during our working week. We work in a setting where we are often infantilised, criticised and treated like a transient workforce. There's a significant workforce shortage, with bottlenecks at every stage of training. It's all very well that the government is creating more medical school places, but where are they supposed to go once they qualify? As a cohort we have finally decided enough is enough; we deserve to be treated with respect.

How has your and your husband's choice to go into medicine impacted your personal lives and financial lives?

A lot, but we try to plan around it as best as possible. We move hospitals every 6 - 12 months, so forward planning isn't really option and involves a lot of stress with rotas. When we rotate hospitals, there's often a confusion with pay; e.g. we are often paid the wrong amount or emergency taxed. We've missed weddings, funerals, holidays, and work antisocial hours which can make having a social life or social hobbies very difficult.

We delayed buying a house for years due to uncertainty of where we'd both end up training. When we eventually did, I got a rotation for my next level of training that was 6 hours away. We had to live apart and see each other every 5-6 weeks due to work commitments until I was lucky enough to transfer home.

These types of transfer aren’t guaranteed, and could have meant 5 years apart at our own fiscal and mental expense. I have a friend who waited 2 years to transfer to be closer to her husband with 2 children under 4! That sort of thing has greatly influenced our own decision not to have children. We don't have many weekends together due to on-calls, so we value that time. The training is tough and both of us have had to take breaks in our career for our own mental health.

There are various hidden 'costs' with our training. We both commute over an hour each day, parking is £6-8 a day, and we have various different fees inherent to the profession, e.g. medical indemnity, GMC fees, college membership, exams (my last one was £700, before that, £1200). It all adds up!

What do you want people to know?

Being a doctor isn't aĺl it's cracked up to be; and quite frankly we’re often treated like garbage for very little reward. It used to be a great job, but the expectations that have been placed on us now are unrealistic. We work incredibly hard under intense pressure and stress constantly. We never should've gotten to this point in our strikes. The stark comparison of being crucial to ensuring the success of the future of the NHS and the disrespect shown by the government to date is frankly appalling. At this rate, I'm not sure there will be an NHS for much longer. We vote with our feet; we know our worth and would be far better respected elsewhere. Staffing shortages will only continue to get worse; I know more people who have left for Australia or New Zealand than have stayed to continue training here. There will come a point where the NHS won't be able to provide the standard of care it is renowned for.

Do you have any advice for your younger self or those thinking about going into medicine?

If I was given the chance again, I'm not sure I'd be encouraging a younger me down this path. I absolutely love my job, I love working with patients and making a difference, but the blood, sweat and tears - and there are many! - that it has taken makes me question if it is all worth it.