5 uniquely British medical practices

I’ll be blunt and admit that I don’t really have a lot of exciting things to tell from the hospital after my placements. I think my placement in medical emergency is a tough one to beat. However recently, I’ve been remembering all these medical practices that was everyday for me in the UK, which now actually seems completely alien to me. I’m converting. There’s a lot that comes to mind, but for starters, here’s a list of five uniquely British medical practices.

1. Clinical wear is basically formal wear

For doctors, clinical wear entails shirt/trousers (NOT JEANS) for men and shirt/blouse/skirt/trousers (again NOT JEANS) for women. Nice flat dress shoes for both genders. Yes, this practice is extremely questionable hygiene-wise, as you come to work with the same clothes you will be wearing the whole day at the hospital, but there is some reasoning behind this.

The medical practice in the UK wanted to take a step away from the hierarchical system by abolishing the white coat and scrubs for doctors. There shouldn’t be anything to distinguish a doctor from a patient appearance-wise, as in the end they’re both people. This is so that there will be no “us and them” mentality between the doctors and the patients, and hopefully, doctors become more approachable during patient contact. It’s a nice thought I guess, and perhaps the prevalence of “white coat syndrome” has diminished over the years. However hygiene-wise once again, questionable.

homer gif giphy saying why so formal lenny you're my go to guy

2. Only black or white shoes are allowed to be worn in the hospital

The professional clinical look in British standards is to be somewhat uniform. Black or white shoes are to be worn as they are more professional. No bright colourful sneakers were allowed. However, I was always jealous of my sister and the bright colourful sneakers she wore around the hospitals in Sweden. So I never listened and decided to rebel and wear my bright orange sneakers. Did I get looks? Yes. Did I get scolded? Sometimes. But boy did I get compliments from patients – “I like your bright orange sneakers, you’re hard to miss in this hospital!” At least I was remembered for my fashion sense.

3. Some doctors wear bow ties or tucked-in ties

As an attempt to improve hospital hygiene, it was implemented that anything hanging around one’s neck is not allowed to be worn in the hospital. Including neck ties. This angered many doctors, as they viewed it to be a crucial part of their professional clinical wear. Therefore they came up with a compromise. Some switched to wearing bow ties, whereas others decided to keep wearing neck ties but started tucking the end of their neck ties inside their shirt. Works I guess.

bow tie from sing movie

4. British hospitals only use black pens

If you look around a British hospital, you will only find black pens and no other colour. I recall being scolded when in the hospital once for taking notes with a blue pen. They told me – how would colour blind people be able to read what I’m writing? I assured them that the notes were only for me to see, and afterwards I had to promise to never use my blue pen again. Since that day, I only brought black pens to the hospital. Yes, it is a rule in British hospitals that you are only allowed to use black pens so that everyone can read what you write, including those who are colour blind.

blue colour blind pen screaming gif giphy

5. You address surgeons as Mr/Mrs/Ms and DEFINITELY not Dr.

“Dr. McCloy… Oh sorry, I mean Mr. McCloy!”

I bet it’s probably only in the UK where some doctors would take offense if you call them Dr. Why you might wonder, which is a pretty good question. As told perfectly in this article, during the origins of surgery around the 18th century, surgeons back then did not possess any formal qualifications let alone a medical degree to be able to hold the title Dr. They were sometimes compared to butchers, and doctors were definitely more superior. However as times have changed, the status of surgeons have risen and thus have become so proud to distinguish themselves from doctors. Today in British hospitals, being called Mr or Mrs/Ms is a badge of honour and could only mean one thing – and that is that you’re a surgeon.
they call me mr tibbs gif giphy

UK, you will be missed in the EU

Around this time year, I made the bold decision to leave my future in the UK, after four years of medical school there. While most who didn’t know the real story behind it (that’s a story for another day) told me this was a bad decision, I somehow knew my future was elsewhere. A few months later, my newsfeed was flooded with news of my friends on strike for better conditions for Junior Doctors. Today, the UK has now voted to leave the EU. 

If I had stayed, I would’ve had worse conditions as a newly graduate doctor than if I had worked in Sweden. However after today’s events, I wouldn’t even be able to work as a doctor in Sweden with a British medical degree. 

Earlier this week, I overcame my fear of officially leaving Manchester University (I’m currently on leave) and began the process of withdrawing my enrolment. Sure, I had to undergo a traumatic year to make me finally leave the UK, but somehow I feel that that was the universe/God’s way of directing me to where I’m supposed to go. If I had stayed, what would have I done now? 

To all my friends (especially those from the EU) in the UK, I hope the decision of the UK leaving the EU doesn’t affect your future plans in any way. UK, I wish you all the best in standing on your own two feet. Thank you for giving me a free BSc Medicine (Hons) from St Andrews when I could.

Five years later, I’m finally getting operated on

Five years ago I had to give up one of my passions which is playing the violin. It was not only because I was moving to the UK, but also because of a chronic injury on my wrist/arm.

Throughout elementary school and gymnasium, those who knew me always associated me with the violin. I even had the nickname “Violin Sam.” I used to say that the violin was like an extension of my arm. It was a part of me.

I was 17 years old when I got my injury, originally diagnosed as a Repetitive Strain Injury. I couldn’t move my hand/arm for a month and was in so much pain. I was devastated. A part of me was gone all of a sudden. Nevertheless I still kept playing as much as I could, at least to finish the concerts as well as I could. On a positive note I was allowed to skip my Physics final exam because I lost the ability to write – and my grade was pretty much set anyway.

I learnt to live with the pain and occasionally visit doctors and physiotherapists. During my entire time in medical school, I have always used a computer to write my exams. I wanted to be a surgeon back in the day, but quickly ruled that out as I can’t do surgery if I get constant pain every time I use my arm. Goodbye surgeon dream, goodbye violin, goodbye writing and drawing. Oh well.

 

me with my violin from the royal college of music in stockholm

This photo was taken on the day I returned my violin to the Royal College of Music in Stockholm in 2011, a few months after my injury. This was one of the last times I played the violin.

Years passed, and during my first clinical placement at Manchester University, I spoke of my problems with one of the doctors who was my supervisor. Intrigued with my story, he suggested for me to revisit my problem and get examined once again. I followed his advice and went to a doctor.

The constant visits to doctors began. During the entire year I was in Preston, I was examined by various orthopaedic surgeons, underwent MRI, X-Ray, Neurophysiological tests you name it. They didn’t even finish examining me within a year. I was told they couldn’t find anything wrong. When I moved back home, I decided not to give up and continued my examinations here in Stockholm.

I was referred to see a hand surgeon who turned out to be an anatomy lecturer at Karolinska. Within the 30min that he met with me, he diagnosed me with an unusual condition called Radial Tunnel Syndrome. I will have a nerve decompression surgery at the end of April/May.

For an entire year in the UK if not longer, I had to undergo so many tests when the diagnosis could’ve been made within a few minutes.

In other words, I could’ve been okay by now.

NHS, after being both a medical student and a patient in your system, I don’t doubt the abilities of your doctors but rather the system itself. I agree with the headlines – NHS, it’s time for a reform.

I can’t wait to return to playing the violin once again! 🙂