5th October 2022

This is Going to Hurt: how should you read this med school bible?

Intrigued to learn more about the life of a junior doctor? Look no further as Adam Kay’s novel is your perfect read!
This is Going to Hurt: how should you read this med school bible?
Photo: Clay Banks @ Unsplash

Reading Adam Kay’s non-fiction novel This is going to Hurt is certainly not an easy task. Whether you are a budding medical student at the University of Manchester, or simply someone like me who is intrigued to learn more about the fast-paced, unpredictable realm of medicine, Kay’s autobiographical diary enlightens his readers with his visceral experiences working in the NHS.

Following a protagonist who is so close to breaking point, students or junior doctors perhaps can mirror their own experiences with Kay. Alternating between the mundane, such as the casual setting of the pub, Kay surprises his reader by then launching them into the absurd, the bright lights of the theatre table where he must save a baby’s life.

The diary form of the novel is not only highly engaging for its personal memories, but too because of Kay’s moments of reflection upon his deemed failures. This internal battle of validation, as Kay recounts the low lights of his career, in my opinion, is an important takeaway of the novel.

These diary admissions vary in length too, keeping the attention of the reader brilliantly, aided by the constant satirical interjections of Kay’s humorous attitude of perseverance.

The writer’s matter-of-factness presents Kay as not only dedicated to his job but being an admirable figure. At times, he even mocks his own chaotic disorganisation due to the stress of being overworked, comically falling asleep in his car after a night shift. As shadowed too in Kay’s This Morning interview, the novel honestly explores the tribulations junior doctors must face. Running on a lack of sleep is just the normality!

Early Med school is thoroughly discussed in the diary entries, which university students could sympathise with greatly. Ex-junior doctors turned celebs, such as Dr Alex and Dr Ranj (in a BBC interview) sympathised with the fact that, “when you are studying medicine, it becomes your whole life.”

Being relied upon for mundane, administrative tasks too, Kay resonates with Dr Alex’s words, where “feeling like you are not seen or heard,” is a commonality. Shruti, a key character in the BBC series (directed by Lucy Forbes) also exemplifies these feelings of invisibility. Kay reminds his audience that this frustration is ultimately part of the quest to become a doctor

Shruti’s willingness to partake, to ask questions, however, is admirable for an audience of university students, who too have perhaps gone through similar experiences. Talking to 5th-year medical student Aiden Hargreaves, he too resonated with Adam’s diligence within his placement. He enjoyed asking difficult questions and actively projecting himself into the spotlight, to make the most out of his time in the hospital.

Nevertheless, Shruti does not appear in the novel, showing the novel is perhaps self-absorbed within Adam’s intense persona and experience. She does perhaps mirror Adam’s younger self, which we have learned of in the early sections of the novel

Another medical student, Asad Shlal, offered an insightful viewpoint on being a practising junior doctor. Noting the lack of mental health support during his studies and the dismissive nature of doctors toward trainee students, Asad highlighted to me the tricky pathway and ‘mixed’ bag of experiences junior doctors often face. Medical students thus learn from this novel/TV adaptation that, although doctorhood may seem daunting at first, engaging with one’s workplace experience is where the foundations are really built.

Ultimately, reading the diary entries through the lens of a student allows one to champion the quest to become a doctor no matter how rigorous, complex, and mentally taxing the job is. Using wacky anecdotes, sharp humour and personal tragedies, Kay discusses the challenges the university student could face, but overall expresses his love and admiration for the service he so lovingly entered and belonged to.

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