Things I have learnt in the ICU

As I sit in the doctors room at 0355 during my final night shift in ICU and my final shift in ICU for the year I thought I would write and reflect on my time in this environment…


I wrote the above sentence and then proceeded to fall asleep on the couch… So let me keep going!

ICU was a fantastic term. It’s a term that all junior doctors should be exposed to during their learning as you see and experience so many things you wouldn’t experience anywhere else.

So to keep things short, this is what I have learnt in the last 11 weeks:

  1. This type of shift work is long and tiring. You work 80 hours minimum a week and go from day shift to night shift in that week. When you have your week off it takes 4 days to completely recover.
  2. When you start the term you are in way over your head. The nurses are your lifesaver. They know more then you do about everything. If you aren’t sure, ask their opinion. They have more then likely managed whatever it is you’re not sure about before and can give you suggestions.
  3. You spend a lot of time with your registrars and have minimal contact time with consultants. This is not an ideal term to get a reference, but the registrars will make or break your term.
  4. Be enthusiastic and get involved. There will be opportunities to advance your procedural skills. Take advantage of it! If there is good team dynamics the registrar will let you do the procedures. Arterial lines, PICC lines and central lines. It’s good to learn and once you have the basics under control they will trust you to do it all on your own.
  5. The complex nature of the patients is daunting at first. Once you become familiar and used to the ICU environment it’s not as daunting as what it first seemed.
  6. Learn as much as you can. Ask questions; don’t be scared to pipe up if you don’t know what they are talking about. Terminology is different to the wards and sometimes you get completely lost in conversation.
  7. Take advantage of your weeks off. Go away, relax, pamper yourself, and catch up with friends. Your weeks on are on – you don’t see anyone, including your partner for more then 1-2 hours a night. Unless of course they are also working as demanding hours and then you go days without seeing each other.
  8. The patients are sick. Very sick. They are young, old and might remind you of someone you know. If it becomes overwhelming you can walk away for some time and regroup. It’s not a sign of weakness.
  9. Teaching after a night shift is never a good idea. If it’s not compulsory then don’t stay for it. No one has the power to stay awake for a 1 hour lecture after a night shift. I don’t dare you to try.
  10. At the end of the day it is just a job. Don’t let it consume you day in and day out. You will be exhausted on your weeks on, you won’t cook, clean, exercise or be social. Just make sure you are taking advantage of your time off when you are on your week off.


And with that ICU is done. I move on to all things lungs come Monday. Got my flu shot yesterday in anticipation. This upcoming term will start slow and then I imagine will become ridiculously busy as we approach the winter season.


Until then, I have a ‘long weekend’ which I will enjoy with a date night, a birthday celebration, a sleep in, some exercise and yoga. Happy weekend all!



*All images sourced from google images

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