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A special consultation

They say medicine is a privilege. To interact with members of the public in their times of difficulty and need, of weakness and seeking assurance, is indeed a privilege few have.

Some consultations, however, are much harder than others.

One recent consultation was particularly notable. She was young – late-20s, I guessed – and had made great effort for the occasion. She’d arrived much earlier than our arranged appointment. She’d dressed smartly to the point of looking uncomfortable in new clothes, not yet worn in. She clearly wanted to look smart for the consultant.

We met for the first time in the interview room. She looked terrified. Her pupils were huge, her hands tremulous, and her voice shaky throughout our meeting.

She seemed eager to please, anxious not to offend, and determined to give and receive information with as much grace as possible while keeping the tears firmly at bay.

I progressed through my planned conversation, asking salient questions, probing areas that were less clear, challenging areas of which I had yet to be convinced. I had done it many times before, yet I was rooting for her. I hoped she would cope. I hoped things would work out well for her, and I was particularly pleased to be on my safe, predictable side of the table.

At the end of our 15 minutes, she looked relieved. She had survived relatively unscathed. She thanked me and my colleague for our time and left the room in a dignified manner, which did not portray the traumatic news and dialogue that had just passed between us.

I looked at my colleague and raised my eyebrows.

‘What do you think then?’ I asked him.

‘Definitely the best we’ve seen today,’ he replied. I agreed.

We submitted our top-scoring candidate’s paperwork to the administrator, and breathed a sigh of relief. The recruitment process for specialty training was over for another year.

Medicine is indeed a privilege, and it is an honour to serve people in their hour of need.

Caroline Whymark is a consultant anaesthetist in the west of Scotland

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