Imagine arriving at an airport to see young pilots slumped in chairs or asleep on the floor, then being jolted awake and having to race through the terminal to take control of their next flight. Far fewer people would contemplate flying. Yet our hospitals are staffed in large part by junior doctors, some only days or weeks out of medical school, who may, if they are lucky, snatch a few minutes’ sleep while still on call before dashing, haggard and hungry, to the next emergency.
In his unflinching and irreverent book This is Going to Hurt, Adam Kay led the way in exposing the heartbreak and horrors of a junior doctor’s life in a desperately under-resourced NHS. Joanna Cannon and Rachel Clarke travel through similarly blighted landscapes but their journeys from idealistic medical students to disillusioned junior medics are no less shocking for that. Whereas Kay abandoned medicine, Cannon and Clarke have both persevered, moving into specialties in which they aim to practise a kinder, gentler approach to caring. Their stories amount to a rousing cry for help and an appeal for compassion for both patients and doctors.
Cannon came late to medicine. Having left school at fifteen, she undertook various jobs before resolving to become a doctor and gaining a place at medical school – accepted as a ‘wild card’ – in her thirties. Throughout her time at medical school, she fantasised about the kind of doctor