When I was at the end of year 12, I had to choose my preferences for university. I had a list of things to write down, but not medicine. My dad was the one who came and asked me if I considered medicine. He thought it was a great opportunity and I could always swap out of it if I didn’t like it. I was convinced so I put medicine at Melbourne Uni as my first preference and I loved it.
I was living with my fiancée when I was doing the surgical rotation in my 2nd year after graduating. The days were long, so we were finding it difficult to see each other and had to have a chat about what was compatible with a long-term relationship. Then luckily, the 3rd rotation that I did in my 2nd year was ICU. The lights went on and I knew that that’s what I wanted to do.
I told my boss about that and he said I’d have to sit the physician’s exam, then they would take me back as a registrar, which meant I had to change from surgical to medical training. So I began ICU training via the physician’s stream after that and my boss sent me to Adelaide for an exam course which was run by a physician, an anaesthetist and an intensivist. I loved what the anaesthetic world brought to the critical care world, so I came back and said I wanted to do the anaesthesia exam which meant 3 more specialist exams. I had the opportunity to do a year of anaesthesia at the Women’s and Children’s hospitals, and another one to complete my anaesthetics specialty exams. I thought those opportunities would never normally occur in one’s lifetime, so I took them and completed that specialty qualification as well.
I think all doctors are expected to teach. They teach patients and junior staff around them. So that morphed for me from sharing my thoughts with people around me to teaching courses. I gave tutorials during my advanced training for anaesthetic exam preparations. Then I got the opportunity to teach medical students, which gave me insight into a different part of education, when I had my first university appointment during my ICU job at St Vincent’s. I also became an examiner for Australasian colleges and was invited to become the Deputy Director and Chair of the exam committee, and that led to multiple appointments later. Then 11 years ago, a new job was created, which was a combined Director of Medical Education at RMH and Dean of the Clinical School at Melbourne University. It was too good not to apply for.
Part of what I love about teaching students is incredibly selfish. I just love the wonderful approach that most medical students have in their first clinical years. They’re passionate, idealistic, full of enthusiasm, and yet they’re a blank canvass. If I can contribute in some way to making them the best doctors that they can be, it is the most ridiculously rewarding job. I also get paid to do it which is quite strange!
For the last 28 years, all my jobs had never existed before I took them. In my junior years of training, I was effectively choosing what I’d be doing on a yearly basis and planning a little bit for the future, but there was still a degree of uncertainty. So I continued to do the things that I thought would make me the best specialist that I could be, and then I was invited to do a few things along the way. It was looking back at my response to those invitations that made me realize that it’s important to tell people to look out for those sorts of opportunities. You must recognise that irrespective of what stage of your career you’re at, you’re not sure of what the future holds. So, I encourage people to explore their passions, to make sure they’re a broad human being, as well as an excellent clinician. Those other skills that you bring to the table can be extraordinarily valuable as you develop a working life and a specific career. We all think that we are going to be clinicians for the rest of our lives but we’re more than that. I never appreciated that as a student.
I must admit that in the early days, I had no idea what I could achieve. If I had let that thought worry or control me, that might have paralysed me. But by being prepared, committed and working hard, I was given some wonderful opportunities and because of those opportunities, I’ve been able to contribute. I’d encourage people to recognise that sometimes there is no tangible reward to the hard work that they’re putting in, but it is all accumulating.
Professor Peter Morley is the Director of Medical Education at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
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