• Paul McGovern

Terrible advice for doctors wanting to leave the NHS

I was a doctor in the NHS for 10 years, and then I left. When I was thinking of leaving I was amazed at the terrible advice and useless opinions I received. People still get the same nonsense when they reveal they are thinking of leaving the NHS. Here are some of the least helpful examples, together with a patronising schoolteacher ‘usefulness’ score out of ten for each.

Bart Simpson sits smiling on Homer Simpson's knee. Homer says "If something's hard to do, then it's not worth doing"
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“Just stay until you get your final surgical exams, then you can do anything”

When you get your final surgical exams, you can’t do ‘anything.’ You can be a surgeon. If you want to leave, chances are you don’t want to be a surgeon any more. Doing exams in a subject you don’t want to work in is a waste of time. Perhaps that time could be better spent living your life.

Usefulness – 3/10

“Just stay until you become a consultant, then you can do anything”

A theme developing here. If you train your little socks off and achieve the genuinely impressive feat of becoming a consultant, you’re going to be very good at doing something you didn’t want to do. Well done and all that…but why?

Usefulness – 2/10. Poor advice repeated gets a lower score

“Maybe you’re in the wrong specialty”

Yes, maybe you are. Maybe, in all the wide world has to offer, working in the NHS is actually right for you, but the problem is the type of clinical conditions you deal with. Perhaps your priorities have changed and you don’t want to work 1200 hours a week and would like a weekend to spend with your family once in a while. That’s perfectly fine. But if you’re thinking of leaving, that’s a pretty big thing to be thinking about. By all means do your research into other specialties, but be really honest with yourself about why you’re considering a switch.

Think about where this advice comes from. If it’s from someone who has your interests and what you want at heart, it’s worth considering. If it’s from someone who simply cannot understand why anyone else would take a path in life different from the one they did, because they are so happy and because their job is so stable, be suspicious. They may mean well but not have a clue about the whole ‘different people like different stuff’ thing.

If the person who’s giving you advice is the sort of person you want to be, then maybe it’s more valuable. If the person giving you advice is very successful but you wouldn’t actually want their life, perhaps take what they say with a pinch of salt. People will tell you how to be them, because that’s what they know how to do best.

Usefulness 5/10

“:’-( [Sad face]”

What’s sad about wanting to move to a better job? If you’re miserable, going home and crying your eyes out after every shift, trudging to work, terrified everyone will think you’re a failure if you so much as hint at changing jobs…that’s sad. That’s concerning. Please, speak to someone and get some support, it can be a lonely place. But if you’ve decided enough is enough, or simply that something you previously loved isn’t doing it for you any more – what’s sad about that? Deciding to make a positive change is a brilliant thing. Happy faces all round.

I’ve no doubt people usually mean well when they post sad faces, or say they’re “so sorry to hear ur leaving ;-( xoxo.” But it’s not helpful. It implies that moving forward is not good, and staying in a job that’s not right for you is somehow admirable. The idea that leaving the NHS is a sad thing, something to be mourned, is an insidiously toxic one. It’s a job and it’s a workplace, and people change jobs all the time.

It’s not sad, it’s just normal. Save sad faces for really sad stuff. There was this story about a kitten I saw the other day and…I can’t…I’m welling up.

Usefulness 1/10 – extra credit included for being well-meaning, despite uselessness

“You’ve spent so long training, it would be such a waste”

This isn’t advice so much as a guilt trip, and a pathetic one at that. Working in the NHS as a doctor is challenging. You learn and experience many things that most people never see. You deal with complex emotions, complex people, and you have to maintain the very highest standards of professional conduct. None of that experience or training is a waste, it’s an asset. What’s a waste is staying somewhere you don’t want to, if you don’t have to.

Usefulness – Ungradeable. Detention.

“You’ll lose the pension”

I am not qualified to give financial advice, but the rest of the Earth manages outside the NHS pension scheme. Utter drivel.

Usefulness – None, irrelevant. Expulsion.

What’s the most useless advice you’ve been given? Feel free to share below in the comments.

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