Like most schoolchildren who were thinking about studying medicine in the early 1990s I watched ‘Doctors to Be’ avidly, and it was definitely one of the reasons that I ended up applying to medical school. Leaving aside for a moment that they have now released ‘Doctors to be: 20 years on’, which means that I am officially getting old, I can’t help but reflect on how different an experience it must have been for them to the experience of the current crop of junior doctors being followed for a documentary. I am referring of course to ‘Junior Doctors: Your life in their hands’ – BBC3’s latest documentary following seven young doctors in their first couple of years on the wards.
I’m not referring to the myriad advances in medical science, or the European Working Time Directive, or the New Deal, I’m referring to the Internet.
In the early 1990s I discussed ‘Doctors to Be’ with a handful of people – my mother and brother, and the select few of my school friends who were watching it. I also briefly mentioned it in one of my medical school interviews, and then not again until I ended up working in the same hospital as one of the stars as a very junior doctor.
Compare that to this new documentary. I have mentioned it to a few colleagues at work, and bored my non-medical other half with it, but have also been able to follow the conversations of countless others. I have followed the twitter hashtag #juniordoctors – and participated while watching the show. I’ve also followed comments about it on facebook – on the Medical Registrar page, on the BMA page, and on many of my friends’ pages as we were all watching it at the same time and commenting on it. There is also some lively discussion on doctors.net – some of which has been by people who have worked with the doctors in question. There have also been fan sites set up, and there is an official BBC webpage for the show, and countless news stories and a Wikipedia page.
All of this make it watching the series a much more interesting experience for me, but I imagine could be extremely discomfiting for those doctors concerned. In addition to the fact that they will have to go through their careers with their first failures documented on television for all to see (and which doctor out there didn’t empathise with Catherine when she had to call in some help to site a venflon, or wince when Adam talked about being ready to deliver bad news in his first week as a doctor) there are some very personal and insensitive comments on twitter and other social networking sites.
Now of course they knew what they were getting into, and it seems they had their rent paid for them for the privilege (hence living in a much nicer house than I could have dreamed of as a lowly pre-registration house officer), but some of the comments are downright nasty. Virtually all of it is in the public domain, so these doctors will be able to see all the comments for years to come, however hurtful they are. I wonder how the commentators will feel if they end up working alongside these doctors they have slated so uninhibitedly online?