Memoirs of a junior doctor

  • In turn book cover

Rural placement in medical school is where I did most of my writing. The rural lifestyle is slower. It gives space for creative expression. During those long placements that James Cook University Medical School had us enlisted to, I filled my afternoons and weekends with writing. It was something I fell into naturally; I’d been doing it since I was a teenager, having grown up on property out bush, where afternoons and weekends were for swimming in the river, drinking tea on the veranda and, in the gaps, writing. Writing gave me an escape from my small-town lifestyle, but it also taught me to appreciate its beauty and the characters it attracts, of which there are many. You know what they say about the town at the end of the road.

But once internship started, there wasn’t time for writing. Halfway through the year, I took a rotation off to edit my first novel. It has subsequently moved into my bottom drawer and I have not checked it for signs of life since. But when I came back to finish my internship, I came back to a surgery rotation. It was there that I realised my reality was more unbelievable than the dystopian fiction I’d just spent 10 weeks editing. So, like the helpless writer I am, I started to document my daily encounters. Writing about my experiences as a junior doctor, while I was living them, made them more bearable. One, because it helped me process what I was observing (and, heaven forbid, feeling). Two, because it made the terrifying moments that little bit more bearable, as I’d say to myself, ‘this is great content.’

It wasn’t until my third year that I really took writing my fictionalised memoir seriously. Up until then, it had just been for me. An intern I knew committed suicide; I had talked to this doctor on the wards only a week before their death. Then another junior doctor took their life just months later. Naturally, I was full of disbelief. I never expected suicide among junior doctors to happen in a small regional hospital like mine. Of course, you know the statistics about doctors and suicide, but I never imagined they’d reach me, in my small hospital, far away from Australia’s busiest hubs. I imagined the culture in regional hospitals to be kinder, frankly more humane, than the horror stories that filter through medical school gossip.

I wrote this novel to share the inner workings of a junior doctor (me) and the effects the medical system and hospital culture can have, so that maybe someone will read it and not feel so alone in the impact such a culture is having on them.

‘IN TURN’ follows the Australian hospital internship of Lentil, a socially awkward wallflower, and the relationships she builds with her co-interns, her coming-of-age experience working on the wards and how it challenges her identity, morals, standards and boundaries. She suffers from imposter syndrome and is shocked by how different being a doctor is from her original idealised perception. She is rostered in her first rotation with the socially elite intern Isaac. But after he faces institutional bullying, Lentil fails to notice his mental decline before his death by suicide. Her faith in the system is lost by the lack of impact suicide appears to have. Lentil faces her own experience of sexism and diminishment. She notices herself become desensitised and ‘empathy fatigued’ – the kind of doctor she never wanted to be. Internship bonds her with unlikely friends as she grows into a version of herself she never expected.

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