Saturday, February 16, 2013

Some terminology explained

I've noticed that my family, my friends, and pretty much everyone who isn't actually a doctor themselves tend to become confused by the medical lexicon. Not the endless names of drugs, diseases, and anatomical bits n pieces, but the terminology used to refer to other doctors and their jobs or levels and what not. So I thought I'd publish this little list of explanations that may help people decipher what I'm banging on about.

Intern - you're an intern for a year after you finish medical school. This is reckoned to be the most stressful year of work, apart from the others. Your responsibilities are basically to do everything that is too boring, too dirty, too repetitive, too inconvenient or too "easy" for your superiors to do. You're also the first point of contact for nurses, which is even worse than it sounds, as they have to call you whether they want to or not.

RMO - Resident Medical Officer. You're an RMO for between zero and forever years depending on local circumstances and your progression through a training program, or not. An RMO occupies a pleasant mid-ground between the intern and the registrar. They know enough medicine to not be freaked out on a day to day basis, and they have both a subordinate to delegate to and a superior to be guided by.

Registrar - basically the most senior person in a training program who isn't yet fully qualified. In some training programs you become a registrar on day 1, so you leap from intern to reg in one step. In others you have to slog out years of work and study and pass some frightening exams before you can call yourself a reg. Either way, you are working directly to a consultant, and you are making the majority of day to day decisions about patient care yourself. Because they are training so intensely, the registrars are sometimes more knowledgable and up to date than the consultants, but propriety directs everyone to behave otherwise.

Consultant - fully qualified and a fellow of the relevant college of medicine, which are kind of like the houses in Harry Potter. For example, all cardiologists are evil schemers bent on world conquest. Consultants lob in from time to time and make seemingly ill informed changes in treatment plans which nevertheless produce miraculous results. At least that's what the registrar tells them afterwards.

Cover shift - an extra shift of work that you are assigned out of hours such as in the evening or on the weekend because there needs to be a doctor on duty. You'll usually be covering the whole hospital yourself which means that you're constantly fighting fires. Not literal fires. Unless you're covering a psych ward.

Surgeon - a surgeon does operations. Obvious.

Physician - a physician does not do operations. But they can do procedures. Which is an operation where you don't actually cut someone open. Or if you do it's only a small hole. Distinguishing physicians from surgeons is not always easy for the patient but here's the general rule: if your doctor has a personality disorder, they are a surgeon. If your doctor is completely neurotic, they are are a physician. Psychiatrists come in two flavours - completely normal pleasant people, and cannibalistic serial killers. The ratio is about 50/50.

Any other lingo that I need to spell out?

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