What to Do When… #1 (A cheat sheet to residency)

Forgive the incoherent title, it’s late and I’m tired.  But now that the new juniors have started, I thought I’d share some tips to not letting the shit get you down.  So for my inaugural what to do when, I thought I’d talk about….

What to Do When Someone is an Arsehole to you on the Phone.

(Yeah I can’t capitalise, I’m so tired I can barely see).

Okay so you’re calling for a consult or your calling the radiology reg.  These are the most likely two circumstances in which someone is going to be a complete prick to you.  Some hospitals give out awards for blocking consults or reviews.  Down the phone their tone is dripping in sarcasm, they ask if you’ve considered this clearly obvious thing which had never even occurred to you, your self esteem is in your shoes and you’re trying not to cry because you’re so stupid you should never have done medicine right?

Wrong.

You never considered that thing because you’ve just finished medical school in the last one or two years.  Or maybe you never learned that thing.  And also you’re not psychic.  And also you’re calling for their expertise, they’re not calling you for yours.

So #1, you’re not psychic, and you’re not stupid, they’re just being an arsehole.

Then they say “what’s your name, I’m going to have to tell my boss about this”.  That’s it. You should quit right now right?  You’ve been found out.  You shouldn’t be there.  You’ve been an impostor all along right?  Wrong.  Wait for it, waaaait for it – they’re just being an arsehole.

#2.  They don’t know you.  No really.  They’ve never bloody met you.  They have no idea who you are, what makes you tick or what you eat for breakfast.  So threats to tell your boss and eat your firstborn because you’re clearly incompetent are just hot air.  They literally don’t know you.  Anyone who tries to judge your performance from a 30 second phone call is demonstrating their own incompetence.  Assessment takes time and repetition, you need to demonstrate progression – it is not what happens in a phone call the first time you speak to someone.

Then you inevitably get some set of demands about how they can’t believe you don’t know xyz, what their cat ate for breakfast 6 years ago, and the knife through the heart…you should know that.  The most useless phrase in medicine.  People who say this are simmering angry, they’ve got so much shit going on that they have no insight into that it comes out in this ridiculous way.  No you shouldn’t know that.  You’re ringing them for their help.  You might not be serving up what they need on a plate, but you’re ringing someone for help.  And when someone in a position of power gaslights, intimidates and says ‘you should know that’ to a person in a much more junior position, not only is it an abuse of power, but wait for it….they’re an arsehole.

#3 You’re ringing for their help and expertise in the care of a patient.  Don’t be afraid to remind them of that but don’t take it as a moral failing that you didn’t have all the information.  And if it was something simple, like maybe you forgot to get the HBa1c for an endo consult – don’t beat yourself up.  Apologise and say you’ll have it for them and move on.  If they go on about it – they’re an arsehole.  And they will.  But if you’re the sort of person who learns from their mistakes (like, you know, most people), you will have it ready for next time and that’s how you know you’re good at your job.

And then you get to ‘well I’m not coming to see the patient until xyz is done’.  Alright there champ, commit to having to take two phone calls.  One of my biggest lessons as a registrar is just see the patient.  You don’t need all the information, just a good clinical question and some background and a request to the caller to find out some more for you.  That’s it.  Anything beyond that is just mucking around.

#4 Get the info and call them back.  You’ll have learned something and they’ll have just created more work for themselves.

And finally, you get off the phone feeling really crappy.  You feel like a failure, you feel down in the dumps, you can’t even articulate all the thoughts behind your feelings.  It affects your work and everything seems to slow down while you battle with your unconscious brain and all the feelings it’s having in the background.

#5 Phone a friend.  Find a trusted person (not the competitive person who will also gaslight you and tell you they have no problem getting consults).  You will inevitably find that the person who gave you a hard time over the phone, gives everyone a hard time over the phone and is reknowned for their behaviour.  Bullies never operate in isolation.  If your workplace has an anti-bullying reporting service I highly recommend using it.  Nothing will get done off a single complaint and that protects people from spurious complaints (some people think getting feedback is the same as being bullied – it isn’t), but slowly and over time, as complaints collect, those slow grinding wheels of medicine move into place and the person either gets the help they need or get moved along.

But just know that when these things happen – it’s not you.  No one deserves to be treated with disdain at work, no one deserves to be barked at for not having all the details – even if it’s a recurrent problem, it needs to be dealt with in a formal way via a supervisor meeting, not belittled down a phone.  Expect better from your workplace.  This isn’t about whoever is the smartest wins.  This is about who cares the most about their patients and colleagues wins.  That’s what gets you the job you want ultimately.  People trusting you to look after their mother.  If they see a complete arsehole to a junior, they’re going to assume that’s how they behave to everyone – including patients.  So don’t accept that behaviour, and don’t ever engage in that behaviour.

I hope that’s not too heavy handed and angry, and I hope even more that it cheers a few of you up.  💖

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