the chronicles of a House Elf: my 2nd month as a House Officer in Singapore + baby steps in mental resilience

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This is part of an ongoing monthly series capturing the highs, low (and everything in between) in my life as a freelance doctor working in Singapore. If you’re interested in finding out about medical/non-medical careers or getting answers to doctoring-related questions, check out my Chasing Careers series!

As promised, here’s part 2 of my Life as a House Officer series. 2 months done and dusted, and I’m still alive!! I’ll try to post once a month, and if you don’t hear from me, it probably means I’ve passed away from being overworked in our insane 80 to 100-hour work weeks!

As of yesterday, the 26th of June, I’m officially 50% done with my very first HO posting, and 1/6th done with Housemanship! I’ve been counting down – and am still counting down – to the end of the year/posting/month on my trusty phone countdown app since the very beginning when it was 121 days. Psychologically, hitting the halfway mark has somehow lifted a huge weight off me – if I made it through the previous 61 days (with 0 annual leave), the remaining 61 will be more than manageable (especially since I have 7 glorious days of leave), and I’ll be on to the next posting before I know it.

You might be asking me why I’m so obsessed with numbers and counting down the days, and the more I think about it, the more I’ve come to accept that it’s just my own coping mechanism to haul myself through this year. Is it healthy? Well that’s a question for my therapist – but I can’t afford to go to one because House Officer pay of $3.2k (after CPF) is too low… :’) Jokes aside, counting down to small milestones is like breaking an overwhelming chunk of stone into small pieces so you’re less likely to get crushed by the weight/stress/anxiety of Housemanship.

The first half of June was rough, not gonna lie. At the start of June, I didn’t know how I would make it to the end of the month, especially in the first week when I was staring down the metaphorical barrel of a gun and had multiple stressors that made me feel extremely overstretched, anxious and overwhelmed:

  1. An impending manpower crunch in July which meant we would have 1 House Officer per team and be doing the maximum allowable number of calls (which is 7 FYI – if you’re doing more, please report it to HR). At the start of June, our department was told that manpower would be halved from 11 HOs to just 6, which massively terrified us, and especially me because I was helping make the July call roster and could foresee all of us being overworked. Thankfully, we recently received news that we’ll have a total of 9 House Officers, and my stress levels have significantly dropped.
  2. 3 calls in 8 days, with my birthday sandwiched in between (in case you’re new here, calls are 30 to 36-hour stints at work – you work from ~6am till the early afternoon the next day, sometimes longer). Long story short, I hate calls and so does pretty much everyone, and I can’t wait to be done with them for good. Pre-call blues are very real and very depressing at times, because it feels like you’re living out of a suitcase and barely have any quality time to spend with your loved ones, because all you want to do after a call is just sleep.
  3. The general feeling my time was being snatched away from me and I had little to no control over my schedule. While this is still true, I’ve been very proactive about clawing back pockets of time for myself when I’m off work, and learning to live in the moment instead of constantly being anxious/sad about the next day of work or my next call.

The amalgamation of all these stressors, bundled on top of being chronically tired, made for a pretty mentally challenging first half of June. I remember there were days when I was just staring at the clock, begging for time to pass faster, or for yet another 30-hour call/shift to come to an end. And while I’m sure there will still be tough weeks like that throughout the rest of Housemanship, I take comfort in knowing that a bad week is just a bad week, no more and no less.

As cheesy as it sounds, over the past 2 months, I’ve learnt a lot about myself and how I cope with burnout, stress, exhaustion and anxiety. I started out Housemanship feeling burnt out (but I’ve been burnt out since I was 16 and that’s a story for another day), and went through a whirlwind of negative emotions, sleep deprivation (from constantly being on call) & anxiety (from the unpredictability of my daily work and call schedule/being unable to make plans with friends/family).

In hindsight, I could probably have reacted more maturely and less anxiously, but I recognise and accept that my thoughts & feelings during those few weeks were completely valid, and I’m glad that I managed to turn my short-term suffering into a period of growth and an exercise in building mental resilience.

Here’s some of the things that helped me get through this period:

  • If you won’t remember it in 5 years, don’t spend more than 5 minutes thinking about it.” I saw this quote on Instagram and it helped reframe my perspective on doing calls. I’m only going to be doing calls for another 10 months (if I can get MO postings without calls), so it’s just short-term suffering and a surmountable obstacle.
  • Praying a lot more than usual
  • This quote by David Goggins: “When your mind is telling you you’re done, you’re really only 40% done“. This mantra shouldn’t be applied to all of life’s challenges, because it’s important to understand & accept one’s limits and stop when your body genuinely needs a break, but it’s definitely a useful mantra for when your mind is telling you to quit or give up or you want to wimp out (which was 100% what I was doing in my first month of Housemanship LOL).
  • Griff’s ‘One Foot in Front of the Other’ was a song I played on repeat throughout this month, reminding me that I just need to keep plodding on, no matter how tough things get:

I didn’t think I’d get back up // I didn’t think I’d be alright again // You know it’s easy when you’re young, bounce back and whatever // You just bounce back like it never happened // So I put one foot in front of the other today

I have another spate of 3 calls in 7 days next week, so I’m off to enjoy the rest of my weekend, ciao! I’ll try to post regular updates about my life as a House Officer (junior doctor) and wherever life takes me after Housemanship year, so be sure to follow my Insta or Facebook page to stay up to date with my latest posts and life updates!


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2 responses to “the chronicles of a House Elf: my 2nd month as a House Officer in Singapore + baby steps in mental resilience”

  1. Hey there! I was wondering if you could give me some advice on how to apply to NUS medicine as an international student. I am currently residing and about to attend 12th grade in the United States. I have a 35 on the ACT, 9 on the essay section, and a 1480 on the SAT. Is it possible for me to get into NUS as I have heard it’s mostly biased towards Singapore students? Thank you so much!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi V, unfortunately I don’t believe NUS Med accepts international students; they usually take Singaporeans and a very small number of Permanent Residents! Do email the NUS admissions office instead, I’m sure they’ll be able to give you more up to date info! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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