Post 27 The day I became a doctor

My anxiety increased with every step, as I walked from the station to Manchester University’s imposing Whitworth Hall.    I was on my way to discover whether I had passed the final medical school examination.

Arriving just after 9.30 I paused, took a long deep breath, then opened the door of this historic building.   This was the moment when I would discover whether I was a doctor or whether I was a failure.   If the latter, I faced a further six months of hard graft revising for the ‘resits’,  whilst my friends started their medical careers.

No sooner had I opened the door when my best friend John shouted ‘You’ve passed, Peter; you’ve passed.    So has Jane and, amazingly, so have I!’

Jane was the girl I intended to marry!

Inevitably I had to confirm the news for myself so, scarcely believing it could be true, I pushed my way through the noisy, excited, milling crowd. Sure enough, both our names were there in black and white on the official list of successful candidates below the University Crest.

‘Doctor Sykes!’ I said the words to myself. ‘Doctor Sykes.’ How strange that sounded and yet it was true.   I was now medically qualified.

During the next few days, I experienced a kaleidoscope of different emotions.   First an overwhelming sense of relief, as if a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.    For months, the hurdle of the final examination had hung over me like a thunder cloud.

My second emotion was a sense of achievement; I had graduated, following in the footsteps of my father and elder brother as a doctor in the Sykes family.   This sense of pride was reflected in the reaction of my parents and various, more distant relatives and friends.   When she learned of my success, my mother spent many happy hours on the telephone telling friends of my good fortune.   Numerous coffee mornings were held in my honour.

Then there was degree day, when the successful young doctors, even those anti-establishment characters who had previously derided pageantry and ceremony, put on their best suits, donned fancy ermine trimmed gowns and mortar boards, posing and parading for the cameras like proud peacocks.

However, within a few days, other less welcome emotions came to the fore and I became anxious. ‘My God’, I thought. ‘I’m now medically qualified.    Am I ready to be a doctor?    Am I prepared to carry that burden?    Will patients really entrust themselves to my care?’   My examiners had decided I was equipped for the task but it suddenly seemed to be a grave responsibility.

As it happened, all too soon I was to discover that whilst my knowledge of medical theory was good, my knowledge of medical practice was woefully inadequate.     Many embarrassing moments, some quite distressing, awaited me when I started to work on the hospital wards. These will be the subject of future posts and you can have them sent direct to your inbox if you SIGN IN on the home page!

This post is adapted from The First Cut which is available from Amazon as a paperback or ebook.


For many months the final examination had loomed in front of me as an enormous obstacle but, not for the first time, I realised that a hurdle diminishes in size when it has been safely negotiated.

It was to be many years however before I came to understand that by the time medical students have completed five years of training, so much time, effort and money has been invested in them that all will qualify, though not necessarily at the first attempt.

Thoughts for the Day

‘Your schooling may be over but your education still continues.’

Newton D. Baker  1871 – 1937

‘Remember half the doctors in this country graduated in the bottom half of their class’                            Al McCuire    1928 - 2001

Extract from a doctor’s letter; ‘on the second day, the knee was better and on the third day it disappeared altogether.’


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