Australian Pharmacist-Turned-Med Student Shares His Passion for Medicine

Colin T. Son


July 28, 2009

Medical students all over the world have something in common: They are all nerds. Or so says one med student in Australia who writes anonymously at the blog Captain Atopic Degranulated. His description of a nerd does ring true for many people studying medicine:

I'd define a nerd as someone who enjoys 'knowing lots' about a certain subject, or many subjects. A nerd may or may not be socially well adjusted... But the crux of it, really, is that a nerd is someone who loves learning and learning lots. In lots of detail. Being a Nerd is no longer negatively connotated; intellectual achievement is praised and rewarded. Think about Nobel Prize winner[s]... Yep, they're all Nerds.

Freely embracing the label himself, the blogger enjoys writing about his experiences as a pharmacist who went back to school to become a physician. His posts are articulate, insightful, and often worth a chuckle. He recently gave some time to talk about medical education, his passion for medicine, and his drive to find balance between his personal life and a field as demanding as medicine.

Colin Son: Let's start with an introduction. Tell us a little bit about your journey to medicine in Australia.

Captain Atopic: For almost as long as I can remember, I wanted to work in healthcare. I grew up in New Zealand and then moved "across the ditch" to Australia after I finished pharm school and applied to postgrad med school here. I really enjoy work as a pharmacist, but I feel that in the long term, medicine allows you to give that much more.

Plus, I like hospitals. I know that sounds strange, but here's why: In an ideal hospital, the patients either want to be healthy and at home or to have died pain-free and content. The doctors want all of their patients to be healthy and for no one else to get sick. The allied health staff are moving towards the same goal too. So really, in an ideal hospital, no one wants to be there, and hence, everyone is working toward the same goal! I don't think there are many workplaces like that.

Captain Atopic Degranulated hosts Grand Rounds
July 28, 2009

Colin Son: What does the medical education landscape look like in Australia?

Captain Atopic: Medical education in Australia seems to be undergoing a heavy period of change, both in terms of course structure and the focus of learning. I think that over the next 10 years or so, the landscape will shift from a mix of undergrad and postgrad courses to solely postgraduate. I wrote more about this in a recent post.

At present, there is a shortage of junior doctor positions across Australia and New Zealand to account for existing graduate numbers. As universities seek to grow their international student numbers, and more of these students want to work in Australia, this shortage will be further exacerbated. Not only will governments need to increase the number of positions (there's a doctor shortage, after all), but the follow-on effects will include intense competition for training places in the specialty colleges.

Colin Son: You've written about the novelty of medicine and the potential for it to wear off as you go through your training and your career. How can doctors avoid that?

Captain Atopic: I think experiencing some aspects of medicine for the first time just lights a fire in your belly. For some, that fire was already burning and drove them enthusiastically thought the entry process and much of the preclinical years. But seeing your first surgery or talking to a patient in your own wee clinic for the first time really turns that fire into something special.

Like most fires, with some attention, nurturing, observation, and fuel, that fire grows and experience grows. It becomes that stage of the roaring bonfire that seems to hold for hours and voraciously consumes wood or whatever else is sent its way.

But, as you know, the fire burns down, the heat slowly dissipates, the fuel runs out.

I guess to avoid getting jaded, you've got to know what stokes your fire within -- be it talking to interesting colleagues and patients, research and publishing, changing career trajectories, or becoming the best in your field.

Colin Son: It sounds like you're talking about job satisfaction. What else do you do to maintain a balance between school and life?

Captain Atopic: Aside from blogging and working, I love my sports. I particularly enjoy playing a bit of cricket or going for a long weekend bike ride. I live in an area that has some fantastic coastal and inland roads and some of the world's best beaches. As you'll see on the blog, I like to wave a camera around too, just for another view of the world.

Colin Son: Why write about your experiences in medical school?

Captain Atopic: I started blogging to keep creative; at the time, my course was in its most intense and raw-science component, and I just wanted to have an outlet for my more "out of the box" ideas. Working in a pharmacy and going through medical school, you're both fortunate and unlucky enough to see some extremely strange happenings, and blogging acts as a sort of conduit of perspective on this weirdness.

The other side of the coin is that writing about med school can be a bit of a taster for people considering it or for people who are just interested in how it all happens. Unless you're married to a doctor or the progeny of a doctor, the actual workings of hospitals and medical school is likely a bit of a mystery. Most people just see their general practitioner, or maybe they've seen every episode of Scrubs, Grey's Anatomy, and House and that's their concept of what doctors do.

This week, Captain Atopic hosts Grand Rounds, the weekly collection of the best medically themed blog posts. A different host each week selects the best writing from pharmacists, students, doctors, nurses, and patients, taking visitors on a grand tour of the medical blogosphere.


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