In hindsight being 100% clinical made me depressed. I like many other clinicians weren’t happy and chalked it up to not enough government funding, stress and lack of support. Whilst there are reasonable criticisms of how the NHS treats it’s a slippery slope. What’s dangerous is focusing too much on how the government treats the NHS whilst not exercising any self-examination. I have seen some bone-idle clinicians flatly tell patients who have been waiting an unacceptable amount of time that it’s all down to the government. The government cannot be blamed for everything, and the government cannot be blamed for 100% of your unhappiness. Below are the 5 areas that greatly improved my happiness when I started coding and physics alongside my clinical duties:
When I’ve been told to describe myself one thing I would never put down was being creative. Even now I wouldn’t describe myself as creative. However, coding and physics showed me how a little bit of creativity greatly improved my happiness. I think it was the simple fact that I could sit back and look at a product that I created my way. Seeing your personal preferences and vision come to life as a functional solution to something, sparked something I never thought I had a need for. Sadly clinical work utilizes little creativity for clear reasons. Patient safety and efficiency are the most important factors. Although there may be some creativity in traditional clinical innovation, it’s minor to creating a mathematical model or coding a piece of software from scratch. The most balanced/ happy clinicians I’ve met usually have some sort of creative outlet. After talking to them I find that they play musical instruments, pursue some form of art or have a hobby. I’ve met doctors who run cooking blogs and one even managed to score an internship at a fashion magazine in New York. However, if you’re as work focused as me (in the last 10 years I’ve been on one skiing weekend outside the country), coding, physics, engineering related to clinical innovation is a great way to get the creative juices flowing without worrying that your spent time isn’t going towards career development.
Clinicians solve problems all the time. However, the problems utilize fairly hand to mouth logic. I only realized this when I went back to study physics. Have you ever felt a rush of excitement or pride when you cracked a complex diagnosis? Have you sat back with a moment of satisfaction when you’ve sorted out the social mess of a patient’s situation so they can go home quickly? Now imagine how a pure mathematician uses imaginary numbers. The fact that a sum of an infinite series has a finite solution, and the fact that different infinite sets have different sizes to make a concrete proof that will be utilized around the world later on only intensifies this. How does a physicist feel when utilizing the statistical mechanics of quantum states to calculate how much oxygen is in the blood using lasers? Just think how a computer scientist feels when refining an algorithm that makes a sorting process quicker. For me, my project has me utilizing homogeneous coordinates. With this, I can quantify objects at an infinite distance with matrix mathematics, to solve simultaneous equations so the computer can work out how far an object is for 3D mapping in surgical robotics. This generates good highs during the week. What’s more is the utilization of solutions plays a big role in satisfaction. When you develop a clinical solution for your patient most of the time it only affects the outcome of the patient. Then there is a considerable part where the effect is rendered useless or dampened for a multitude of reasons. “waste of my time” is a common complaint I hear when I’m working in the hospital. On the flip side, solutions are more likely to be permanent when it’s tech, coding or physics. Just think if you developed a simple software solution for a small problem happening in your department. The fact that the software is working 24-7 carrying out you solution within seconds only intensifies the satisfaction. Of course, there are other areas to satisfaction, seeing first hand the direct effect of your actions on patients, and personally conversing with patients is another dimension of satisfaction. It’s down to personal preference, and some will value this over technicality or efficiency of solutions, however, tech solutions are a great addition to your clinical duties. Adding a couple of tech days a week to you routine will give you another dimension of satisfaction.
When I talk to the doctor or nurse about transferable skills they tend to jump to generic attributes like teamwork, leadership, and problem-solving skills. We have already covered problem-solving in the previous section so let’s look at teamwork and leadership. These are not unique to clinicians. In fact, a soldier who signed up straight after leaving high school may be unfortunate to find themselves in a pressured teamwork and leadership opportunity on their first tour abroad. When you jump to listing school of life attributes that are developed through personal circumstances, you have to face the fact that your clinical degree didn’t give you many unique transferable skills outside of healthcare. Now let’s look at physics. This is the mathematical modeling of physical systems, some of which involved probability. However, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how these skills can be utilized to financial modeling, engineering, logistics, epidemiology, computing, market research, and much more. It’s the same when you consider coding. If you can code to the point where you can build software that users can use you can employ your skills to a wide range of industries. I have yet to hear of a soldier coming back from tour having said that the situations they endured made or broke their math modeling or coding skills. Now to some people, this is fine. Thank god we have people with single track minds who want to become the best surgeon they can be. Society needs people who dedicate their lives to surgery and other medical specialties. However, for me and others like me being locked into a system is kinda unnerving. I became much more relaxed and confident about my future. When political changes unfolded in healthcare I didn’t have to attach myself to one side and aggressively challenge anyone who disagreed with me. I have the comfort of standing back and looking at what was happening. This wasn’t just me. I knew a few other doctors and nurses who had gone back to study other degrees and obtain coding skills. They also were more relaxed, they looked at both sides. On the other hand, the ones who had dedicated their lives to the NHS and only learned clinical skills and medical academia were the most aggressive. They would deny when their side did anything wrong, completely fail to see when they were being hypocrites, they would be OK with spreading misinformation, and would jeer and get personal about the politicians. If you look at the Wikipedia page of demonizing the enemy some followed it to the letter. If you’re like me having strong transferable skills will put your mind at rest and reduce the need for you to convince yourself that the hysteria is true and justified. Hysteria is never positive in anyone’s life.
Getting a break
Do you ever get sick of doing the same thing? Sometimes you just don’t want to talk about work? You’ve most probably answered yes if you’re human. Building from the previous section when you’re developing coding/math/tech skills you don’t have to keep it in a medical context. Some of my math modules in my physics degree had me answering questions on population dynamics and if I was sick of a certain subject I would apply the math to my favorite board game, something I read in the news or something I read in an economics textbook. The same went for coding. When I was developing my knowledge of object orientated programming I developed a simple war game. When I was getting my head round accessing databases through my code I got hold of 400,000 amazon food reviews to see if there was any effect on the review if they the review contained husband, wife, girlfriend, or boyfriend. Turned out it bumped it up to 5/5 average reviews! When I was developing parsing data onto my script I developed a program that went through my favorite TV shows and the films I wanted to watch and told me when the next show was available on the internet, or when the film was out in the cinema. Developing a skill that empowers you to enrich many different aspects of your life is clearly going to increase your happiness.
Meeting interesting people
Once I developed my first app and graduated physics I had something that set me out from the crowd. Because of this, I got to speak to more interesting people. It doesn’t mean that every clinician apart from the ones who went and studied something outside of healthcare are boring. I mean that clinicians themselves became more interesting. Instead of the standard clinical stories and the moan that we’re overworked and underpaid (I still partake in a moan myself every now and then), I found that clinicians were more likely to tell me their interests and hobbies. If they know I can code they tell me of their desire to do the same thing, or they inform me of their software ideas. Clinicians are kinda like Londoners. London has a reputation of not being friendly as people keep themselves to themselves. However, when you break down the barriers and get into a conversation, they will always agree that people in London are too unfriendly whilst being friendly. The same goes for clinicians. The conversation has a high risk of running into the same negative rut, they could get paid so much more if they did another job, hours would be better, and that they had this patient once that did this and they did this and that. When you talk to them about your slightly different pursuits they open up and tell their stories. Graduate entry medics tell me about the degrees they studied before medicine. Others have achieved noteworthy goals like swimming the English channel, others have would tell me the range of jobs they had before going into nursing or medicine. I even met a doctor who used to be a truck driver.
Even if your coding/tech ambitions are light, trust me, you will be happier in general and meet more interesting people.