Dr Jemma Hogan – your training is a marathon not a sprint

Dr Jemma Hogan
Dual RACP/RACMA trainee and Registrar
Co-Chair for the AMA WA Doctors in Training committee
Clinical Senator for WA

My journey through medicine has been an interesting one, with periods of hardship but also personal growth…. For me, this started back in January 2018 when I had been accepted into Paediatric training and was just about to start the job of my dreams.  

Less than a week before commencing the role, my father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 63. He was an amazing man, a teacher, an avid sportsman and most importantly to him, a loving father to myself and my younger sister. 

Even though I knew bereavement leave was a thing that existed for people in these sorts of situations, I was determined to make a good first impression (and not be viewed as difficult or demanding in my new job) and so commenced the same week as my father’s funeral. This was in the emergency department, seeing a variety of presentations with the constant pressure (which in hindsight was mostly self-imposed) of seeing more and more. My grief during this time got to a point where it felt all consuming, I wasn’t sleeping well, I couldn’t concentrate, and I felt I was losing control of what was happening around me. I went to go see my GP, who could sense I was struggling who referred me to a Psychologist that specialised in grief counselling.  

Despite ongoing support from my GP and my Psychologist, I felt myself becoming less and less engaged with clinical medicine, resenting having to go in to work and getting frustrated at patients for becoming unwell, even though I knew it was not their fault and that they were just there hoping to get better. 

Recognising this point, I decided to break away and do something completely different, moving into non-clinical medicine for the second six months of the year. This involved taking a break from my training program to explore a hospital administrative role.  This role enabled me to make improvements and changes to systemic issues I knew needed fixing, helping both junior and senior doctors within the hospital setting. 

This role was a complete breath of fresh air from what had been a tumultuous year, allowing me to make improvements to systemic issues I knew needed fixing and explore some of my passions in the form of wellbeing initiatives, medical education and helping to optimise training opportunities for junior doctors. The news I received that fateful day in January rocked me to my core and I now have the hindsight to recognise I was burnt out and needed an alternate option to clinical medicine at that point in time, or risk never returning. 

While arguably there were multiple points along the way that I could have changed my actions: taking bereavement leave, seeing less patients in emergency, engaging more in the support services available at the hospital… I believe my story is not unique in its nature and that many other doctors have experienced similar situations, too afraid to seek help or to change their routines at work. I tell my story not for sympathy but in the hope that others will realise there are various supports and options outside of clinical medicine available for them too. 

The opportunity I had in non-clinical medicine not only revitalised me in terms of what I felt I could contribute to the system, but also reinvigorated my passion for clinical medicine. When I felt that I was in the right headspace to contribute again (only a few months later) I was able to return in a casual, then eventually back to full time clinical capacity; when just shortly before I had seriously considered leaving medicine altogether. 

While I’m not saying this option is the best approach for everyone with personal and or mental health issues, non-clinical roles can be a great option for those who are not interested in taking time off but still want to contribute meaningfully to the healthcare system.

I believe the rising demand for these positions reflects the increasing interest in non-clinical positions and that hospitals should be encouraging the growth and development of these rotations and the alternate skills they bring, to ensure engagement and durability of their doctors’ clinical careers.

If you are struggling or considering a non-clinical career don’t be afraid to reach out… Remember that your training is a marathon not a sprint and longevity and enjoyment of your career should be your end goal. 

Dr Jemma Hogan is a Dual RACP/RACMA trainee currently working as a Registrar in Paediatrics at Perth Children’s Hospital and in Public Health at the WA Department of Health. She previously worked as a Medical Administration Registrar at St John of God Midland Public and Private Hospitals. She was appointed as Co-Chair for the AMA WA Doctors in Training committee mid 2020 and as a Clinical Senator for WA. She also sits on the RACP National Basic Paediatric Training committee. In 2019, she completed her dual Masters in Health Management/Masters in Public Health (with Excellence) through UNSW. She has interests in medical leadership, doctors welfare, medical education and workforce planning.