Articles and Case Studies

Livin’ the dream… or not?

10 Jul 2023

Dr Joseph Curran — BW Headshot

by Dr Joseph Curran

Livin the dream

“Livin’ the dream...”

This is one of the most common responses I hear from junior doctors on the ward when asked how they’re going. Sometimes delivered with a smirk, sometimes with a sardonic tone; but overall giving the impression that they are, in fact, not living the dream.

After a while, I began to wonder about how junior doctors handle adversity and some of the key challenges we face. I don’t think junior doctors are under any illusions about how difficult working in healthcare is. However, our attitudes towards these adversities are changing.

We’ve certainly come a long way in how we’re treated, but unfortunately the 2022 annual survey of all doctors in training in Australia, delivered by the Medical Board of Australia, found that 20 per cent of respondents were considering a future outside of medicine. The reasons are likely multifactorial, with bullying and a heavy workload being key elements cited in the report.

Some challenges in medicine have always been present, including the years of training and the anxiety over the weight of some decisions.

But, as with every industry, there are new and evolving challenges as we move into an increasingly technologically savvy and competitive environment.

Good doctors are assiduous, and this will and should never change – it strives to ensure the best outcome for patients. The difficulty comes with what’s added on top of the necessary level of hard work – like the increasing competition to get on to training programs, or the pressures to publish research early as a junior doctor. And with the healthcare system under constant strain, at times it seems like having well-staffed hospitals is a pipedream, even though this would greatly help in promoting the mental health and wellbeing of junior doctors and all health professionals.

So how do we actually live the dream?

Well, on the surface it doesn’t seem altogether difficult – proper pay, proper support, proper hours, to name a few things. But the answer is much more complex than that. There are intricacies and nuances I’m probably yet to understand, including those influenced by socio-political pressures.

We should feel lucky in many respects though, when hearing some of the horror stories from our senior colleagues in medicine. We have our predecessors to thank for speaking up for change in those times. Such tales include having an entire 12-week rotation on nights, with zero nights off; or that while overtime was commonplace, overtime pay barely existed. I can hardly imagine enjoying these rotations, not to mention the exhaustion and questionable patient safety involved. Moreover, hearing of the prominence of the hierarchy in medicine makes me feel fortunate that medicine has changed for the better, and still continues to change.

There are, of course, so many positive aspects about the job. Too many to name, in fact. Atop the list is the strong sense of camaraderie between junior doctors, which is perhaps one of my favourite aspects of medicine so far. Not only do we look after each other, but we relish doing so. When we say, “livin’ the dream”, we know our colleagues are aware of exactly how we’re doing. More often than not, this response entails an offer for help, because we know that part of the fabric of being a doctor is helping one another.

There are few things more comforting than being taken under the wing of a registrar who acutely recognises the challenges of being a junior doctor. Moreover, aspects of mindfulness and reflection are well established in medical school training, which altogether help promote resilience in the formative years of being a doctor.

Junior doctors will always strive for appropriate working conditions. This isn’t a controversial notion. We have come a long way, and the job will always have its challenges. But the notion of being in a supported and caring environment is as important as it has ever been.

So let’s aim to actually “live the dream”, and make the most of the myriad of opportunities we have every day to really engage with and help our patients, and become the best doctors we can be.

Stay updated with the latest medico-legal content

Subscribe to MDA National’s biannual Member publication, Defence Update, for the latest medico-legal updates, articles and case studies.

Subscribe now

Doctors Health and Wellbeing


Doctors Let's Talk: Get Yourself A Fricking GP

Get yourself a fricking GP stat! is a conversation with Dr Lam, 2019 RACGP National General Practitioner of the Year, rural GP and GP Anesthetics trainee, that explores the importance of finding your own GP as a Junior Doctor.


25 Oct 2022

Systematic efforts to reduce harms due to prescribed opioids – webinar recording

Efforts are underway across the healthcare system to reduce harms caused by pharmaceutical opioids. This 43-min recording of a live webinar, delivered 11 March 2021, is an opportunity for prescribers to check, and potentially improve, their contribution to these endeavours. Hear from an expert panel about recent opioid reforms by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. 

Diplomacy in a hierarchy: tips for approaching a difficult conversation

Have you found yourself wondering how to broach a tough topic of conversation? It can be challenging to effectively navigate a disagreement with a co-worker, especially if they're 'above' you; however, it's vital for positive team dynamics and safe patient care. In this recording of a live webinar you'll have the opportunity to learn from colleagues' experiences around difficult discussions and hear from a diverse panel moderated by Dr Kiely Kim (medico-legal adviser and general practitioner). Recorded live on 2 September 2020.