Friday, 24 July 2015

I'm A Paeds FY1... Get Me Out of Here!

With the much anticipated first Wednesday in August (for non-UK/non-hospital based folks, that's when all the junior doctors change jobs and our shiny new colleagues start their first roles as qualified doctors) fast approaching, I'm breaking from the EBM theme to write a #tipsfornewdocs type post for those who will be starting out in the crazy, scary, exciting world of paediatrics. I never actually did a paediatric rotation in FY1 but over the past year or so I've worked with numerous FY1 colleagues, some of them excellent and some of them a little less so. This is basically a list of the things I think really make the difference between the good ones and the rest.

If you're starting your first job as a doctor on paediatrics, lucky you! Whilst a lot of people are naturally anxious about working with children (yes, some of them are quite small, and they can be sticky and noisy, and worse than that, they come with parents attached!) you'll be working in a very well-supported environment with, on the whole, a very approachable group of senior colleagues. No one will expect you to be cannulating neonates or taking bloods from chunky toddlers on your first day! You also have the benefit, if you start in August, of working in a specialty with quite marked seasonal variation in admissions, so over the summer it should be relatively quiet on the wards and you'll have time to get your head around how things work before the winter chaos commences!

Paediatrics is a lovely, varied specialty with lots to learn. How much you do in terms of venepuncture, cannulation etc is largely up to you - if you aren't comfortable, no one will make you do it, but if you're keen then the SHOs and registrars will be more than happy to teach you. There should be lots of opportunity for getting involved in audit, if that's your sort of thing, and there's usually some kind of research going on if that's what interests you. So what makes a great paediatric FY1?

Be organised. This goes for every FY1 job out there, to be honest. If you know who your patients are, what's going on with them and when they might get home, you'll probably not go far wrong. If you know a patient might go home, get started on their discharge paperwork early. This is great for your patients, as it means they have less of a wait between being told they're fit for discharge and actually getting to go home. It also keeps the nurses happy, and frankly keeping the nurses on your side is one of the biggest things you can do to help yourself survive as a junior doctor!

Be interested. I get it, not everyone is keen on kids. For some of you, paediatrics will probably be your worst nightmare. We all do at least one job during our training we are not remotely keen on (FY1 general surgery, in my case), but these jobs still have plenty to teach you. The majority of you will end up having some contact with children during your future training, and even if you have your heart set on geriatrics from day one, there's a lot of opportunity for embracing multi-disciplinary working and improving your communication skills, which will be useful in any future career. You don't have to love it, but please don't treat your rotation as some kind of sentence which must be served.

Be able to spot a sick child. This is the biggest "clinical" thing expected of you if you're going to be involved in assessing children. Hopefully you'll get a chance to see new admissions to the unit and clerk them, as that's probably the best learning opportunity. No one will expect you to correctly diagnose everything you see, but it's important that you can recognise those children who look unwell and need senior review sooner rather than later. There is a really useful website called Spotting the Sick Child, which has elearning modules and videos of what to look out for and is worth doing if you aren't clear what a sick child looks like (you also get a certificate of completion which you can stick in your ePortfolio...). If in doubt, ask. Children can deteriorate quickly so if you aren't comfortable and feel something is wrong, get help sooner rather than later. Management priorities for someone acutely unwell follow the ABC approach, but you should never be in a situation where you're dealing with this by yourself. The DEFG (don't ever forget glucose) is particularly important in young children as they're prone to hypoglycaemia and it can have serious consequences.

Be friendly. Engaging well with a child can make a huge difference. Not everyone is naturally comfortable with children, but if you can chat about something that interests them, that's a great start. Knowing which characters frequently appear on t-shirts and pyjamas is useful, as clothes are a great starting point for conversation ("oh wow, that's Peppa Pig on your top, is she your favourite?"), as are toys and characters around the room. Frozen and Minions are particularly popular at present. If you can distract a child talking about whether they like Anna or Elsa best or how funny it is when the naughty Minions turn purple, you're much more likely to work out whether they have genuine abdominal tenderness, for example. Hi-fives after finishing an examination or procedure go down well, and if there are bravery certificates and stickers on the ward these tend to be good bargaining tools if you need to do something the child perceives as unpleasant (including looking at the throat; you would be amazed at just how much kids hate opening their mouths when you ask them to do it!).

Be professional. There's a fine balance between being child-friendly and being silly. Yes, parents want someone who's good with their child and knows how to communicate with them, but they also want a doctor. Being daft when you're examining and chatting to a kid is fine, but make sure when explaining finds and communicating plans to parents that you come across as the knowledgeable professional you are. This also goes for speaking with teenagers, who will be wholly unimpressed if you treat them like children.

Common things are common. Have a basic grasp of the common presentations and how to manage them. A lot of paediatrics is about simple things, done well. Wheeze and fever are probably the 2 most common presentations, so know your local investigation and management guidelines for these. You'll also probably see a a lot of jaundiced babies, rashes and gastroenteritis. If you can take a decent history, examine and work out which kids are the really poorly ones (see earlier point) you won't go far wrong.

Enjoy it! Paediatrics is fun and children are interesting. Plus, where else can you get baby cuddles, play with bubbles and watch cartoons whilst at work?!

Good luck!


  1. Great post :) Children aren't as scary as people think. In A&E at least, there are far fewer sick kids relative to sick adults. Paediatric nurses are amazing; if yo're ever not sure about something they'll be able to give advice too.

    A big advantage of working with kids is that they don't really smell as much as adults. That may sound a bit silly, but it's something you really appreciate!

  2. Really interesting post! I won't be an FY1 doctor before another 4 yrs but good to know what to expect.


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