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“I’m probably meeting you on one of the worst days of your life” – what it’s like to work as a junior doctor in the Emergency Department

This blog is written by Dr. Dan Bronsema, a medical intern at Peninsula Health.

It’s 10pm on a Friday night. I’m nearing the end of my first evening shift. I pick up my next patient – an older lady who’s had a fall at home, knocking her head on the dresser. Her daughters are interstate for the upcoming weekend and she’s home alone. She’s very distressed and speaks in broken English. There is a bleeding cut above her forehead. She has a throbbing headache, sore shoulder and she’s on a blood thinning medication. Before I meet her she’s already had a CT scan of her head and some bloods taken. I scan her previous medical history and notice that this is her first presentation to emergency. She’s understandably anxious. I introduce myself – “Hi, my name is Daniel, and I’ll be the emergency doctor looking after you tonight.”

Each day, around 20,000 Australians will present to an Emergency Department. At Frankston Hospital, an average of 225 patients will be triaged, assessed, investigated and admitted or discharged from the Emergency Department in one day, making it one of the busiest hospitals in the state.

For some, this will be their first time inside a hospital as a patient. While they may have previously visited a sick friend or a loved one in hospital, being a patient is a vastly different experience. I’m probably meeting you on one of the worst days of your life. It is an unfamiliar, anxiety-inducing experience, where you can be unsure where you are going or who will be looking after you. Patients overhear phrases that are often unfamiliar and terrifying – “CT Angio”, “Hepatitic screen”, “MRI brain”, “blood cultures” – all of this as doctors and nurses whisk in and out of the curtain ordering tests and reviewing results. As a junior doctor in the emergency department, I’ve realised that it is my job to not only get you back home safely – but also to make the experience of the hospital a little less terrifying.

My patient’s scan of her brain, X-Rays of her shoulder and her bloods tests are normal. I explain the results to her in a way that isn’t full of medical jargon and acronyms – converting words that took years to learn in medical school, into digestible sentences. She’s relieved and much more relaxed now. I call her daughters again, and explain everything that has happened. I unpack a suture kit and begin to suture up the wound as she casually tells me the story of how she moved to Australia twenty years ago.

For the next 24 hours another 225 patients will present to hospital, and will need to be assessed, investigated and admitted or discharged. I will come to rely on senior doctors and experienced nurses for help. I will arrive at the bedside of anxious and worried patients, and with my team help to provide a diagnosis and management plan. I will be reminded that a hospital visit can be an overwhelming experience, and that it is our job as doctors to be compassionate and help make it a little less terrifying for patients and their families.

D. Bronsema