the chronicles of a House Elf: my 9th month as a House Officer in Singapore + will the pre-call blues ever go away?

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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!

It doesn’t feel too long ago that we still had 9 months of Housemanship looming in our year-long journey, but now 9 months have already whizzed by and we’re 3 months away from becoming Medical Officers.

The mere thought of being promoted from the absolute lowest form of life in hospital to the second-lowest leaves me trembling with joy. Long gone will be the days when we have to take patients’ bloods or insert urinary catheters at 3am, because we’ll finally have juniors to perform these menial tasks on our behalf. Such is the circle of life in a public hospital…and who knows, if we keep up with our 70-80h work weeks, we might finally become the patients and get some rest! 😀

At any rate, 9 months is a pretty long time. In that time, people could have birthed a whole child, but I reckon I’ve done pretty well for myself, having grown a food baby from all the free cafe drinks that my current team plies me with on the daily.

In my first post for the year, I’ll be sharing about the non-scientific phenomenon of ‘pre-call blues’, my third Housemanship posting, and my newfound Muay Thai hobby. It’s been a fun 25 days so far, and I’m honestly looking forward to the rest of 2022!

the beginning of the end/my third posting

As ominous as the title sounds, I’ve actually spent the past month enjoying life in my new department & hospital. Back when we were selecting postings, I ranked this as my #1 choice, so I’m glad to be completing my Housemanship journey here.

Y’all know the drill; I generally avoid mentioning my current employers or working location on this blog as our employment contract has clauses on social media use & blogging, but you can easily find this info on my LinkedIn! 🌚

There’s not much to say that I haven’t already said in my past few posts, and that’s a good thing. I have no gripes so far as my current department has a pretty decent work-life balance and almost everyone is chill, with maximum ‘wholesome bro’ vibes (which is a completely accurate stereotype of doctors in this specialty – I’ve seen my bosses greet each other with echoes of ‘hey bro’ and fistbumps).

And I honestly like the nature of work and patients in this specialty far more than my previous two postings. It’s fairly laidback, I’m getting to learn lots of new things at a manageable pace, and have enough time outside of work for living life like a…normal human being.

It’s honestly refreshing to have the time, mental bandwidth and energy after work to pursue my hobbies, spend time with friends & keep up my new year’s resolution of getting fit, all while getting a solid 8 hours of sleep (except when I’m on call and get 1-2h of sleep).

The only thing that still sucks about Housemanship is the calls, a necessary ‘rite of passage’ (…more like suffering) that trains our ability to fend off sleep attacks for over 20 hours, and helps keep the hospital staffed with sufficient junior doctors at night.

I honestly thought I’d have gotten more used to the mental rollercoaster leading up to a call by now, but it hasn’t gotten easier even after 9 months of going through calls 4-6 times a month.

pre-call blues

Calls are still extremely physically and mentally draining (no doubt it’s even worse for more senior doctors), and the dread lurking in the back of my mind in the 1-2 days before the call itself is often times worse than the call itself.

Anyone who’s done a call knows exactly what pre-call blues are.

Back in my first month as a House Officer, I asked a senior House Officer if the pre-call blues get easier to cope with over time, and he just let out a huge sigh. Yikes.

But to recap for those of you new to my blog, calls are these absolutely gnarly 30-odd hour long work days where we’re working/on duty and physically in hospital for 1.25 days straight, getting phone calls with alarming regularity. It honestly barely feels legal or safe, but this system is in place in most Singapore and American hospitals (this article explains it better).

Pre-call blues are a uniquely terrible concoction of existential dread, anxiety, prophylactic fatigue and ‘so-much-ugh‘, that reaches a peak about 1 day before the call itself.

  • Dread: You know the call is looming because it’s on the roster your ‘roster monster’ (a fond dub for the person who makes the department rosters) sent out 1 month ago. You’ve probably marked it on your calendar, or had to decline meetups because you’re on call on a Saturday – which means you basically have no weekend.
  • Anxiety: Just thinking about how many admissions you might get during the call, or if you’ll be able to knock off work at a decent time after finishing the call, or if you’ll even have time for a breather, the list goes on.
  • Losing sleep even before the call itself: You’d hope for a decent quality of sleep the night before the call itself, because sometimes we work 30 hours straight without a single wink, but ironically, all the anxiety wakes you up intermittently and you end up with eyebags.

If you’re a doctor who’s done calls at some point in your career but can’t relate to what I just described (if you perhaps somehow even enjoy calls and are ready to label my generation of doctors as ‘strawberries’), please close this blog and stand in a corner, preferably 10000 miles away from me. Kthxbye.

I was on call over this past weekend and suffered from massive pre-call blues, which is probably what inspired this entire spiel. Now that I’ve let some of my salt out (although I’m still saltier than the dead sea), let’s get back to our regular programming…

fighting for a better future

In my 2022 New Year’s Resolution blogpost (below), I wrote about how I intended to try things outside my comfort zone. And I’ve done that, or rather, am in the process of doing that.

At the start of 2022, I joined an MMA/Mixed Martial Arts gym near my workplace and committed to attending Muay Thai classes at least 2-3 times a week, either after work, post-call (while sleep-deprived), or early weekend mornings (on the rare times I’m not working weekends).

It’s a routine that’s in equal parts punishing yet rewarding, unlike my current job, which is just punishing. It’s created some level of discipline and motivation, in part due to the expensive monthly membership fees, but mostly due to my desire to reclaim my life from the clutches of Housemanship. I have so much fun getting my regular cardio in, letting go of any frustrations on the punching bag, and reminding myself that there’s a whole life to be lived outside of work.

I don’t want to feel like I’ve stagnated in all other aspects of my life just because being a House Officer is such a huge mental, physical and emotional drain on me (and all of us tbh).

So many of my friends have lost their social lives and so much of the energy they used to have, either due to the constant drain of being on call or the absolutely appalling working hours in their postings. We deserve better, but we’re bonded in a 5-year contract that doesn’t even begin until after we complete Housemanship, so there’s really no escape – the only thing I can do for myself is make a consistent effort to make fun plans outside work.

T-3 months to life as Medical Officer

It’s starting to feel pretty real. Just today we received an email with details for an upcoming Zoom briefing for the ‘Medical Officer posting exercise’ (MOPEX), where we’ll be informed on the various posting options available to us, and how to rank them.

Unfortunately, from what I’ve heard from generations of seniors/Medical Officers, the MOPEX process is yet another round of Hunger Games, with people competing for postings with the best relative work-life balance or postings without calls or weekends. And of course, the lucky ones who are still passionate and career-driven will compete for postings in their specialties of choice, but that path is clearly not for me.

Yes, my friends and I feel some degree of existential dread at the mere thought of being rotated to 6-month long Medical Officer postings that are renowned for poor work-life balance or that we have zero interest in, made worse by the fact that this process will go on for a solid 5 years until the bond/contract reaches its end.

But no matter where life takes me after Housemanship, being the idealistic dreamer I am, I’m never going to stop pursuing my hobbies/interests, and trying to find my true calling in life. I don’t want my life and my twenties to be consumed by terrible working hours (70-80h/week should NEVER be normalised) and constant exhaustion, so this is me trying to fight for my future.

I’ll continue sharing my journey for my remaining months as a House Officer/junior doctor and beyond, so be sure to follow my Insta or Facebook page to stay up to date with my latest posts and life updates!

And with that, here’s my song rec for this month, a soothing (yet sad) Korean R&B song:

nostalgia by JUNNY & JAY B

Those kinds of memories
That comes to you like a soft, gentle breeze
When you stand still and close your eyes

I’ll try to reminisce
Leave it as it was
Like a series of letters, already been erased

I’ll leave every last moment a memory,
I’m just sittin here chasing a feeling I can’t explain

xoxo,
Faith

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