To the friend who gets me through medicine

6 minute read

Internships are hard, but if you’re lucky you could make the best friendship of your life.

A couple of years ago, I was asked to give a keynote speech at the Victorian pre-internship seminar.  

The event was designed for final-year medical students in all their nervousness and excitement, weeks away from being doctors. The speech was to cover some of the highs and lows of internship, and tips for surviving a very tough career. I was well accustomed to giving similar talks; students frequently wanting tips on how to get internships at the “best hospitals”, or impress their bosses, or position themselves for competitive training programs, or make good referrals or avoid prescribing errors or deal with bullying cultures.   

I decided not to cover any of that. Instead, I gave a 60-minute talk on the single best part of my internship. My best friend.    

Hi, Ru. When I gave that speech, I wanted the students to know about the beauty of friendships we make as doctors. If you ask me, it’s one of the best bits of an otherwise very difficult job. And how can I talk or write about life-changing friendships in medicine and not spend the entire time discussing you?  

I can imagine you reading this right now, probably between cases in theatre, with an extra-large cup of coffee. Do you remember when we started as interns together? Day 1 co-interns. Our first day as doctors. We were strangers before that, and then within days we were bonded (for life, apparently) by the emotional, physical, and cognitive load of medicine.  

We were so nervous about charting medications that we used to sit and do drug charts together. Remember during that first week when we had to chart a warfarin dose, and it took us three hours – together – to decide between 3mg or 3.5mg of warfarin for a patient’s morning dose? And then we were so nervous about causing a torrential intracranial or gastrointestinal bleed that we escalated to the registrar who kindly told us to piss off and chart whatever we wanted.  

You were as thoughtful back then as you are now. We were on the same rotation so you and I had to work alternating weekend covers, which used to be 7am to 10pm, Saturday and Sunday. My very first Saturday cover was the first day I had to work without you. It was disastrous. I had seven MET calls and two code blues that day. I think it is still one of the worst days I’ve had in medicine; I absolutely dreaded every weekend cover shift after that. You know how it got better? You started coming in on the Saturdays I was working to drop off coffee and say hi. Sometimes if it was painfully busy, you’d go around the wards asking the nurses if there were any jobs I needed to do, and you’d quietly do them instead. Sometimes you’d just sit next to me while I was writing patient notes and try to feed me some lunch.  

We worked at different hospitals for a while after that, and I missed you a lot. Remember the joy when our jobs finally lined up, and you were working at the Austin Hospital and I was working at the Mercy? Because the two hospitals shared the same building, we could do post-ward-rounds coffee together every morning. It was the best part of my day. The Mercy staff knew you as “Pallavi’s surgical friend from the Austin”, because you used to leave coffees and little notes for me with the ward staff if you thought I looked tired. You still do that; even though now I’m a fully grown doctor in private practice, you send boxes of cupcakes to my clinic if I sound busy or stressed.  

Last week you said I was your biggest cheerleader. Yes. The year you were working at the private hospital closest to my general practice, you told every surgeon you met that your best friend was a good local GP. You made sure your bosses all knew my name and practice, and threatened them with bodily harm if they didn’t look after me and my patients. For what it’s worth – five years later – your previous consultants still know me as their old registrar’s GP best friend. When they run into you at conferences, or come to my practice to give a talk, we are always asked about each other. I tell them all how great you’re doing and that you’re going to be finishing your surgical training in a couple of years. Sometimes I tell them about that the time in internship when you dropped my pager in the toilet and then told switchboard that I did it. I wasn’t even at the hospital that day. 

If I am sick, or even remotely sounding sick, I will find your homemade vegetable soup sitting on my porch. If you go to lunch or dinner with someone else, you order the vegan item on the menu; not because you’re vegan but because I am, and you want to see if you should bring me back there to try it. If I don’t message you for a few hours, you write to ask why I’m being uncharacteristically quiet. If you don’t message me for a few hours, I assume you’re scrubbed in a big case and send 400 messages in the hope that your intern or theatre nurse will read them out and embarrass you with the content. Sadly, you are extremely hardy and annoying and don’t get embarrassed by anything.  

You are the most confident person I know. You are so messy and laidback and extroverted. You are a phenomenal doctor and the most holistic, empathetic, and kind person I have ever met in surgery. You don’t cut corners, you don’t take the easy path, and you are so deeply compassionate. You tell me to stop being stupid when I have crises of confidence and defend me when I am not around. Since day one of internship, you have inspired and pushed me to do better. You make time and give love to everyone important to you. You make time and give love to everyone important to me. You mentor your residents and junior registrars. You never compete. You just quietly excel with your steadfast maturity.  

So, yes, I am your biggest cheerleader. Here’s me doing it publicly. Again.  

Dr Pallavi Prathivadi is a Melbourne GP and an adjunct senior lecturer at Monash University, with a PhD in safe opioid prescribing. She was a Fulbright Scholar at the Stanford University School of Medicine in 2020-2021 and the 2019 RACGP National Registrar of the Year. 

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