Medical student reflections - Dylan Foskett 2023 essay prize runner-up

Tell us a little about yourself

I am studying medicine at Macquarie University and will be entering my third year in 2024. My passion for medicine stemmed from a long-standing interest in science, having a curious and inquisitive personality, commitment to the service of others, and a staunch desire to make a positive impact through my work.

Outside of medicine, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, and I try to maintain a healthy mix of many hobbies including reading, running, Brazilian jiu jitsu and spending time by the beach. I enjoy meeting and working with new people, traveling and new experiences. I also work part-time in a diagnostic laboratory for NSW Health Pathology at a major public hospital in Sydney’s south-west.

This year’s essay theme on doctor and student self-care is one that really resonated with students and was reflected in the number of entries. What did you learn in the process of researching and writing the essay?

My research into the topic yielded quite interesting results. The oldest piece of literature that I could find which explored this topic was from 50 years ago, published in the Medical Journal of Australia by Dr J. Ellard, and formed the opening of my essay. The striking reflection that I took from this paper was that it seems, unfortunately, that not much has changed regarding the wellbeing and health outcomes for junior doctors and medical students. Despite several advances in safe work practices, self-care and stress management programs, confidential support services and workplace conditions, there still seems to be net deficit in the health and wellbeing outcomes of junior doctors and medical students.

Some key sources of ongoing stress include: financial pressure, staff shortages, lack of specialist vocational training positions and the increased demands of continuing professional development given the rapid speed at which medicine and technology are advancing and the constant need to keep up-to-date with this.

Studying medicine can be quite challenging. What are your personal plans for managing your own well-being as continue your studies towards your goal of becoming a doctor.

Studying medicine is undoubtably a challenging, but highly rewarding, endeavour. Most of us enter into our medical studies having undergone significant deliberation, and often years of hard work before getting accepted, so we are quite certain that it is what we want to spend the rest of our lives practicing. One central practice in managing my own well-being is self-reflection. I believe that early self-identification is the most powerful tool we have in preventing a dangerous spiral of self-damage, and after we have identified this pathway, we need better systems and personal mechanisms in place to prevent the damaging outcomes. Reflection is also a good way of acknowledging all of the achievements and progress that have been made to date, which can often be forgotten in the busyness of being a medical student/junior doctor.

Another mechanism that I find effective is having a diverse group of people, both inside and outside of medicine and of all ages, who I can discuss my challenges with. This has been useful in learning new coping mechanisms and gaining new perspectives on approaching different problems.

I also find it useful to have a hobby outside of medicine which you can clearly track your progression in. As Sir William Osler, one of the founding “Big Four” professors of Johns Hopkins Hospital, stated “the young doctor should look about early for an avocation, a pastime, that will take him away from patients, pills, and potions.” For me, I enjoy doing Brazilian jiu jitsu, which allows me to clearly track my progression through a belt system. This is not only good for my physical health, but gives me an escape from medicine and clearly demonstrates that I am progressing in something else in life, and is also very social where I meet and talk to other people from all walks of life. Finding hobbies that you really enjoy is critical in balancing our lives and making the most our little personal time. I also find that physically removing myself from a situation (e.g. a desk full of textbooks and a computer screen or a busy emergency department) for a short period of time, like getting some fresh air and sunlight, is a quick and effective way at recharging and refocusing.

Finally, as the doctors of the future, we have a powerful role in shaping the conditions and outcomes of our profession moving forward. I am a strong advocate for improving the conditions of medical students and junior doctors around Australia and use my platform as best possible to achieve this. As someone who enjoys the writing process, I have written to several politicians at both Federal and State levels regarding this topic, with the intent of initiating conversations and hopefully having an impact in improving our outcomes. I also take advantage of opportunities to provide feedback to my Faculty on how to improve the course for future medical students. Ultimately, in order to improve conditions, we must analyse the problems that we encounter, determine meaningful and achievable solutions, and communicate these with the people who are making decisions.

Q4. What would be your message to medical students and the medical profession about having your own doctor?

Time and time again while researching this topic, the importance of medical students and doctors having their own GP whom they trust and can speak openly with was heavily endorsed. Hearing from the perspective of someone who has personally been through your situation,and has also undergone additional postgraduate training to help you, is a powerful tool in aiding our wellbeing and health. Finding a GP who you can connect with, and having regular check-ins, is a critical piece of the puzzle in ensuring our ongoing and long-term wellbeing, not just during our training years but also throughout our entire careers.

Read Dylan's prize winning essay A taste of our own medicine. 

Finding a GP who you can connect with, and having regular check-ins, is a critical piece of the puzzle in ensuring our ongoing and long-term wellbeing, not just during our training years but also throughout our entire careers.