Too Young.

So I write this on a Friday evening at 9pm, kids hopefully asleep, hubby watching his team in the FA Cup and me on the laptop with a small glass of vino. It’s been another busy week, full of flu, gastroenteritis and various coughs interspersed with some more complex medicine.

This week I find myself reflecting on a comment I hear all too often; ‘oh you look much too young to be my doctor’. Flattering? Frustrating? Fair?

I am 33 years old and yes have been blessed with a youthful gene, thanks Breen’s, but my first thought when people say I am too young is that they think I am unqualified, ineffective or substandard. In response to the ‘young’ comment, I usually just smile, nod and move on, while hoping to prove my skill through expert knowledge and broad experience. I want to be remembered as ‘a friendly, informative GP,’ rather than ‘that young blonde one’.

I spent five years at medical school; I was middle of the pack and did well overall. I always enjoyed the more clinical and person-centred learning opportunities and I tried to hone my consultation skills whenever I got the chance. (As an aside, I was at my old university this week as I started a post-graduate diploma and as soon as I walked on to campus I felt eighteen again). I then moved on to foundation training; this is two years of four month rotations in different medical specialties. I spent my first year (F1) in Grimsby where I had a blast and learned a great deal.  I learnt how to take blood, how to cannulate like a superstar (thank you rheumatology patients, you let me learn on the most difficult veins) and how to be a Junior Doctor. I can picture my first weekend on call doing nights, so vividly. A cardiac arrest occurred due to massive haemorrhage (bleeding) and, due to amazing teamwork and a great deal of effort, we saved this patient at 2am.

Following my year in Grimsby, I  moved back York to start my second year (F2), which involved a more senior role. During this time, I had my first taste of General Practice as a working doctor (thanks to Pete for showing me the right path). I found it difficult during the year to work out where I fit in within the team: was I still a junior doctor or was I more senior? I couldn’t quite bring myself to give tasks/jobs to our team F1s and I had zero delegation skills but I also couldn’t bring myself to call my consultant bosses by their first names (even when told to). This process of trying to find where I fit in to the system continued on in to my GP training hospital posts, being a ‘senior house officer’ but not feeling very senior. I really found my feet, however, when I started my final year of GP training, I felt comfortable and at home, but also like I’d definitely found a career that I could excel at.

I started at this surgery exactly four years ago as a Registar in my final rotation of GP training and I loved it so much I stayed (thanks for offering me a job). I get asked a lot by patients ‘oh when did you start here, you must be new’. Nope, four years means I’m no longer new. Over that time I have built up relationships with a good cohort of regular patients and I hope they see me as more than the ‘young GP’. They keep coming back so I must be doing a good job.

So do I get annoyed when I am told I look young? The answer is: sometimes. I think it is possibly because it implies I’m inexperienced and lacking in some way. Does it stem from a lack of confidence on my part? Do I need to just get over it? I have learnt to let it go over my head but very occasionally I feel a stab of annoyance or embarrassment when I hear those words. Is this just a bug bear of mine or it across the board, other occupations and other generations? I’d be interested to know if this happens to my male colleagues regularly too?  What are your thoughts and experiences? Please do comment below. I’m sure it won’t be long before the wrinkles catch up with me and I’ll be beaming with pride when I get told I look young, but for now allow me to feel a little inadequate.

As I’ve previously mentioned I am a big Twitter fan, and I enjoyed a recent thread by Anna Isaac (@annaisaac) Economics Correspondent for the Telegraph newspaper:

So, clearly it is not just me or the GP profession. I don’t want to get in to a feminism/sexism debate in this blog post but writing this all down has got me thinking about the wider implications of someone saying I am young and the assumption that may mean I am inexperienced.

In my job I like to take on extra work. Organise that meeting, help someone with that project, file those extra bloods. I am a do-er. I probably do too much (see previous post about me working on saying no). I have recently wondered if this is because I am continually trying to seek approval and respect, proving I’m not just ‘that young doc’. Who knows. It’ll be something I continue to ponder until the day I don’t get told I must be too young and moan that everyone must think I look old and past it!

Reflecting back on this post and discussing the topic with two of my sisters, that are both professionals in other fields, made me think about ‘power poses’. Amy Cuddy has done fascinating TED talks showing how she thinks posture can massively impact on how people feel and are perceived. I remember an episode (The Distance, season 11) of Grey’s Anatomy when Amelia (chief neurosurgeon) operated on a fellow surgeon, it was complex and delicate work that a lot of other surgeons had refused to consider doing. Amelia, and then her colleagues, adopted the ‘Wonder-Woman pose’ prior to the procedure. I remember thinking how powerful a scene that was. Maybe I should try it before my next big meeting or presentation as I do think posture has a key part to play in how my patients and colleagues build an opinion of me. Going forward I am going to make a conscious effort to work on my body language and posture when sat at my desk and when conversing with my co-workers.

Also, as an aside, does any one else feel more capable and mature when they’re wearing specs? I usually wear contact lenses at work but on occasion wear my glasses and it makes me feel much wiser!

This next week I start my sessions of coaching, I am a little nervous about it. NHS England were recently offering funded one-to-one coaching for GPs, it can be to help with resilience, career progression, work/life balance or whatever challenges the clinician wants to try and approach. I was a bit apprehensive about applying as it’s not something I know a lot about, but was encouraged by one of my female seniors to give it a go, she had done and found it hugely valuable. I was pleased to be chosen and this post has allowed me to look at areas I would like to explore, certainly assertiveness, my own opinion of myself and I think I would also like to think about where I want my career to head over the next few years bearing in mind I am keen to continue to balance work and my home life. Part time working is tricky…I feel a new blog post coming on!

Anyway. Time for me to grab an early night, Park Run tomorrow, hurrah. Park Run is a place where it doesn’t matter if you’re old or young, fast or slow. I’ll probably bleat on about Park Run a lot over the upcoming blog posts but I am a huge fan as a novice runner and as a GP who likes to encourage my patients to get active and/or get in to volunteering.

3 thoughts on “Too Young.

  1. Ruth Fisher says:

    Another excellent blog! I can fully understand your feelings when people comment about how young you look – don’t let such comments “get to you”. Carry on “blogging”, as more and more people read them they will realise that there is a very wise head on those young shoulders of yours.


  2. Coral Akenzua says:

    I’m 39 this year with 3 kids and I used to get asked all the time to show ID when I buy alcohol, I hated it but now for the last 2 years no one asks I miss it.
    At work as a paeds reg parents would say are you going to ask your consultant (Clear cut URTI) I hated that and would firmly say no but now I realise having attended A&E myself a few times with the little ones. It’s not their fault it’s society and unfortunately we all make up society. It’s a bit like when people say it’s a system failure well sorry but we are the system, it’s not some random person or thing in the distance that we can all point at it’s us.
    Thanks for the lovely blog.


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