the chronicles of a House Elf: my 8th month as a House Officer in Singapore + the bad thing about comfort zones

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

First things first, merry Christmas! It’s my favourite season of the year, and I’m really grateful that I was able to take leave on Christmas Eve and have this holiday weekend off to spend with my family, friends, and Netflix Christmas rom-coms (The Princess Switch, anyone?).

And just like that, 8 months has whizzed past and we’re 2 days away from the end of our second Housemanship posting. Much like how 1 hour feels like an eternity to children but barely anything to adults, each progressive month of eMpLoYmEnT is passing by seemingly quicker and more painlessly.

Time is flying, and I’m not quite sure how to slow it down. Even if I can’t slow it down, I wish to at least escape the sensation of my youth slipping past me in a blur of 70-hour work weeks, or feeling like I’m just running in place, never really getting anywhere.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the concept of time lately, and this thought struck me when I was writing a recent blogpost/book review on The Alchemist: I’m terrified of leading an uninspiring, comfortably complacent and dull life which I’ll regret on my deathbed.

reflections on my House Officer Elf journey so far

In summary, my first 4 months (the first posting) was less-than-ideal, and the past 4 months (my second posting) were great.

In the first posting, I was pretty far out of my comfort zone, or at least what I defined as my comfort zone back then. It was undoubtedly a deeply uncomfortable and stressful period of my life for a multitude of reasons:

  • Adjusting from ‘never-been-employed-full-time’ to ‘working-12-hours-almost-everyday-with-barely-any-weekends-off’
  • Working in an environment with a lot of Type A personalities (whereas I’m clearly a Type B)
  • Coping with insane amounts of constant physical and mental fatigue, which led to burnout
  • Feeling dissatisfied at work and not being able to shake the feeling like this career path isn’t ‘the one’. (If y’all are interested in reading about my ongoing career-related existential crises, I might write a follow-up post)

If I hadn’t endured the extreme discomfort in my first few months of work, I would probably still be complacent in my comfort zone and taking a chill lifestyle for granted. Those few formative months in the metaphorical ‘deep end of the pool’ taught me a lot about my resilience + capacity for short-term suffering, and helped me grow as a junior doctor (a.k.a becoming really efficient at administrative work, removing surgical drains, and running along hospital corridors).

In terms of stress levels, I would say the first 4 months were like the steep upward incline of a roller coaster, and my stress levels over the past few months have been progressively going downhill from there – probably the only time that describing something as going downhill is a good thing. So yes, I’m happy and in peak zen mode these days.

a highlight reel of my second posting

Most people try to sound optimistic about their tough Housemanship postings by only sharing the good moments on their Instagram stories, but I’m the type of person who tells things as they are.

So when I say that I had a lot of great moments in this posting, I genuinely mean it. Yes, there were occasional blips of mildly stressful moments, or maybe my stress tolerance increased drastically after /that/ first posting, but I honestly had zero bad days here.

Not being dramatic, but gone were the days of crying after work, gone were the days of acne flares caused by workplace stress (my skin is literally the clearest it’s been in years), gone were the days where I was dreading coming back to work from Annual Leave. At the risk of sounding like a complete nerd, I confess that I was even excited to return to work after my recent Annual Leave, because of the people (bosses and fellow HO/MOs) here.

Some of the things that made this posting so great:

  • Good manpower – In other hospitals with poorer doctor:patient ratios, it’s hard to provide quality care and reasonably devote a proper amount of time to each patient. But here, I’ve had time to actually sit and chat with my patients after morning rounds, or spend time speaking to their family members without having to rush off. It’s small things like these that help me find more meaning at work, and I’m grateful for the good manpower allocation here.
  • A commitment to work-life balance for employees – There’s a concerted effort to ensure everyone gets an average of 1 day off a week (or approx 4 days off a month), for proper rest and personal time. Here, it feels like a job is just a job, instead of an all-consuming entity that swallows your personal life.
  • Great working culture – The work culture and architecture/design of a hospital affects all its employees, and this place epitomises that. It’s hard to be uptight and excessively stressed when surrounded by greenery, a water body, and laid back (yet competent) colleagues.

I’m definitely going to miss this place, especially the nice ensuite call rooms (FYI this is the only hospital in Singapore where the call/duty rooms have ensuite toilets).

4 months in my comfort zone

I won’t lie, I’ve spent the past 4 months working in what I would consider a comfort zone and safe space. And it’s honestly been amazing; I have absolutely no regrets picking this posting.

A comfort zone is exactly as the name suggests. It’s that sweet spot in one’s existence where you reach work after the sun has risen and every day doesn’t feel like a chore. It’s a workplace where you have enough space to breathe, a relatively low-stress environment, going to work with colleagues who also happen to be actual friends you enjoy hanging out with outside of work. Everything feels peaceful, enjoyable and harmonious.

While I am in the camp of people who believes in stepping outside one’s comfort zone, when it comes to simply surviving the demands of Housemanship, I’m more than happy to spend it in a working environment that is well within my comfort zone, because I’m not about to deliberately intensify my suffering in the name of academic gains or more rigorous training.

And let’s be honest, the entire ordeal experience of Housemanship itself is already so far out of what any normal person would consider a comfort zone…

why comfort zones aren’t ideal long-term

At this hospital, I met so many seniors who have been working in the department either as Medical Officers or Resident Physicians for the past few years because it offers security, a comfortable routine and a relatively good quality of life (compared to other hospitals/depts).

Scarily enough, I completely related to and understood their choices, and even considered returning to this department to while away the remaining 5 years of my bond as a Medical Officer. But I quickly snapped myself out of that notion. Because the problem is that time passes by very quickly when you’re existing inanely within your comfort zone, and life can slip by very easily when we’re complacent and contented with where we’re at in life.

I’m not saying we should be discontented for the sake of it, but rather I’m terrified that I’ll settle into a working routine that is ‘alright’ and ‘comfortable’, without ever fully exploring other career options or achieving my fullest potential. Sure, spending my Medical Officer years in this same department would be a lovely and chill way to while away the honestly-depressing 5-year bond, but at the same time, I can foresee my 30-year-old self (how old I’ll be when I finish the bond…) being frustrated and regretting not having gained exposure to other specialties or not having grown in any tangible way over the years.

I don’t want to wake up one morning and realise that the past few years have passed in a haze of comfort, with little real progress to show and the subtle dissatisfaction that we’ve pushed aside because we’re so comfortable with the status quo. That, to me, would feel like a waste of my life and the limited time we have on earth. I want to live to the fullest and find something – a job, a cause, or anything really – I’m passionate about, not just show up to work and make it through each day in a comfortable manner.

Anyway, I’ll cover this in greater detail in my year-end post next week, and share about how I intend to actively seek discomfort in 2022 (any other YES Theory fans here?) and challenge my boundaries in both career and life.


So I guess this concludes my 8th monthly post. Have a very merry Christmas, and for those of you who don’t celebrate, enjoy the public holiday!

Snow in California by Ariana Grande

Here’s my festive song rec for this month:

Just make it snow in California?
I’ll even settle for rain
Don’t want him to go tomorrow morning
Give me something to make him stay
Wrapped in his arms by the fireplace
Will be the perfect gift
Let it snow in California

I’ll continue sharing my journey 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!

xoxo,
Faith

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P.S. I don’t make any money from running this blog, so if you’d like to support my writing and help me bring even better content to you, you can buy me a coffee/donate on Ko-fi!


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2 responses to “the chronicles of a House Elf: my 8th month as a House Officer in Singapore + the bad thing about comfort zones”

  1. Great post! Reminds of this quote: “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”

    And yep! YES Theory; Seek Discomfort!

    Like

    1. hello fellow Yes Fam member, and glad you could relate to my post!! 🙂 Here’s to 2022 and seeking discomfort!

      Liked by 1 person

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