For all future F1 docs

I’m constantly contacted by medical students and young doctors who wish to devote their lives and careers to Formula 1. They seek advice as to what the best path to follow to actualise that desire. Here in a nutshell is my answer.

First of all, I know almost no one in motorsports medicine for whom it is a full-time job.This includes some of the most well-known and important guys doing this. There are a number of reasons for this, including the weekend nature of the sport, the fact that to maintain any level of competency one needs constant clinical exposure, and the fact that very few (non corrupt) motorsport associations can afford to pay doctors a full-time salary for what is basically a hobby. A time-consuming, passionately engaging, and extremely serious and rewarding hobby to be sure, but a hobby nonetheless.

DO NOT ENTER THE FIELD OF MEDICINE BECAUSE YOU WANT TO BE A “F1 DOC”. Become a doctor because you want, need, cannot BUT, be a doctor. If what keeps you going, through the long grueling years of studying, through the 100 hour weeks, the emotional and physical hardships of training, is the ultimate goal of being in the front seat of the medical car, GET OUT NOW. Not just because of the extreme statistical unlikelihood that it will happen, but because the motivation needs to come from the day to day practice of medicine, not from what or where you want to be . . . years later.

In terms of the skill set you need to work in motorsports, pick the field of medicine you love. The one that fulfils you. The specialty that fits your personality. It doesnt matter if it’s dermatology, ob/gyn, anesthesia, emergency medicine, or endocrinology. Remember, you need to wake up every day and go to work. And if your first thought is “shit, another day in the clinic seeing diabetics” or some such negativity, you’re going to be miserable.

To be effective at a circuit, at a rally, drag strip, etc, you of course will need total mastery of the basics of trauma care. Taking and passing courses such as PHTLS, ATLS (or perhaps more usefully the European Trauma Course) is obligatory. And only then can you start to take these certificates and turn them into real, reflexively available, psychomotor skills. I know psychiatrists, dermatologists, etc, who are marvellous motosports docs – because they’ve taken the time to learn what they need.

Get involved with the sport you love early. Start hanging out at your local venue, whether it be a hill climb, rally, circuit … Get exposed to the work, the environment, the organisation. Start to meet and know the people, and to let them know you. It’s a pretty small world, and by the time you’re ready to get out there, you’ll have built up a circle of friends, mentors, and colleagues.

Work as much as you can. I remember when i first met Sid. I’d been a consultant anesthesiologist for years, but had been doing motorsports for only a few months. I remember he turned to me on the Sunday and said “you know old boy, in five or ten years, you’re going to have figured this thing out, and you might be pretty good”.  I was, of course, shocked. But, of course, he was right. It takes a long time to figure things out. In every way. Be patient, keep your eyes and ears open. Find a mentor, and engrave everything he or she says in your memory. And be safe, right from the get-go. It’s a dangerous environment, and mistakes get paid for in cash. Protect your ears from the beginning. Thresholds are such that ANY exposure will immediately start killing your sensory cells. They don’t grow back, and you won’t notice it until it’s too late. I’ve been extremely careful since the beginning, and I’m the only person I know in any position with fully intact, audiogram-proven, hearing. Everybody else is well on their way to becoming functionally deaf.

If your personality, your medical orientation, and your needs point you to a more “acute” specialty, then the obvious constitute fantastic preparation for prehospital trauma care. Emergency Medicine and Anesthesiology – nothing like them to give you the knowledge, technical skills and reflexes necessary for immediate, life-saving decision making. Then go on and learn the principles of mass casualty management.

Hope this helps. Post your questions to the comments, and I’ll get to them as I can.

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Back at long last

Hey everybody!

It’s been forever and I’m thrilled to feel my fingers banging away at my keyboard. Tons of stuff to talk about, but I’ll split it into a few posts.

Leaving Belgium was a totally bittersweet experience. It’s essentially the only job I’ve had since finishing my training, and it occupied the vast majority of my adult life. On the other hand, it was me who decided to become an expat again.

Saying goodbye was deliciously moving, sad and hopeful at the same time. My co-workers were fantastic and lovely and heartbreakingly nice with me as I got ready to leave. I’ll never forget any of them, and of course I’m looking forward to seeing them and the hospital again.

As any of you who follow me on Facebook have seen, I’m completely enchanted with Abu Dhabi. I’ve been here for six weeks now, and am nowhere near coming down off my cloud.

Leaving aside the weather, the sun (feels like a reunion with a long lost friend), and the sea, what makes this place magic is the people.

On an average morning, from waking up until getting to the OR, I interact with people of at least five to ten different nationalities and cultures. And everyone is full of respect, usually smiling, and displaying an openness that is completely new for me. I’ve thought long and hard about the origins of this, and while I’m not sure I have AN answer, what I came up with surprised me. A lot.

Of course there’s the weather, and how it buoys the spirit. Of course there’s the pay – remember that most people, regardless of their job or station in life, are usually earning more than they would had they been home rather than here (Please don’t assail me with the horror stories. I know they exist, but I’m here and you’re not.) But there’s more.

For me, the explanation of the incredible vibe here is . . . Islam. Yep, that’s what I said. Islam.

You see, Islam is more than what we think of as a “religion”. It’s more than just a set of rules and practices and going to Masjid (the Mosque). Islam is about how to live. From waking up in the morning to waking up the next morning. (Sound familiar to any Orthodox Jews reading me?) The respect and openness that pervade and permeate life here are, for me, proof that this is not just talk. It is the essence of life here. I suspect that the number of devout people here is only slightly higher than in the west. But the principles really reach far into the fabric of day to day life here. And it is wonderful.

One sees it in little ways, constantly. “Inch’allah” – if it pleases God. Used after EVERY evocation of a future event. See you tomorrow, inch’allah. I’m having curtains installed tomorrow, inch’allah. What a lovely way to constantly remind ourselves that much as we’d like to think so, we dont really control what happens to us. Or “al hamdillulah” – thank God. Of course, we use that too, all the time, but here it’s deeper, more heartfelt. And used every time anything good is evoked. So much so that when you’re asked – how are you?, you can simply answer “hamdilullah”. There are other expressions, all of them delicious and almost moving. It’s constant, and it’s refreshing, and I’m sure it’s part of what makes this place so wonderful.

I’m ordinarily a seriously grumpy guy, and I find myself in conversation, sometimes deep conversation, with the most unexpected people. Taxi drivers for example, or the salesman where I rewarded myself with a briefcase (full disclosure, Longchamp, brown, beautiful). Malek is his name. A Syrian (right there you think, holy crap, is your family ok? And you realise it doesnt matter what side they’re on, what matters is the drama behind that). Malek is an archeologist, and we both wound up teared up at the tragedy of the richness of his country being torn apart. Or the staff in the hotel I stayed at until my apartment was ready. They’re all like cousins now. I stop back regularly just to catch up. THAT IS JUST NOT THE ME I WAS.

I’m not going to talk about my job now, for reasons that will become clear in the next weeks. Suffice to say that men are men, with their jealousies, insecurities, and pettinesses. So I’ve a bit of a bump in this marvelously smooth road laid out in front of me. Still less than anything Malek has confronted. More on this later.

I’m thrilled to be writing again. Thrilled with my new life. And blessed to have so many fascinating, curious intelligent people willing to read my words.

Next post imminently.