Sometimes I think that I ought to have been a doctor, so great is my weakness for medical dramas. I entertain a fantasy of stalking down hallways in brightly-coloured scrubs, holding people’s lives in my hands. And then I remember how much I hated studying science, abandon the dream, and put on another episode of Grey’s Anatomy.
Junior Doctors: Your Life in Their Hands is not actually a medical drama but a documentary following eight recently-qualified doctors starting jobs at the Chelsea and Westminster hospital. It immediately appealed to me with my love of all things medical, but, by giving me an un-romanticised look at the medical profession, put paid to any of my potential dreams of joining the junior doctors.
It also made me a little nervous about setting foot in a hospital, at least during the month of August. A nurse cheerfully explains at the beginning of the programme that the day on which the new doctors arrive, when all hell breaks loose and the death rate rises by 6%, is known as Black Wednesday, and the nurses avoid working then if possible. It is a refreshing portrait of nurses which we are given in Junior Doctors, as they are the ones who know what they are doing, rather than being overshadowed by the doctors.
But of course most of the focus is on the doctors, if only to highlight their incompetence. In the first hour of this six-part series (actually the second series of Junior Doctors, the first, which aired last summer, having been set in Newcastle) screen time is mostly shared between five of the eight, although the fact that they all share a house means that we do see the others.
Andy, the youngest of the bunch at just 22, starts the day by attempting to insert a cannula, and after several failed attempts (during which I wince in sympathy, having been subject to a bungled blood test earlier in the week) he eventually has to call a doctor in to help, at the patient’s insistence. Chelsea girl Milla is worried that she will not get paged on her first night shift, but wishes she hadn’t complained when her first duty is to certify a death.
Lucy and Aki appear most concerned about proving their abilities, Aki staying up late the night before his first shift to revise. However, he fails to impress his new boss when he breaks the law, giving out confidential information on the telephone. Lucy also has telephone worries, when she receives a call about a patient who’s collapsed, and pauses mid-diagnosis to ask a nearby nurse if she’s right.
Funny guy Amieth says he’s “not particularly ambitious or driven” and one has to wonder why he chose to become a doctor if this is really the case. Being a second year, he remains unflappable even while working in the Emergency Department, performing a rectal exam and inserting a line into the foot of a patient who is in cardiac arrest without batting an eyelid. His cool demeanour makes a change from the fumbling and nervousness which we see from the others, and shows what a difference a year makes.
Not for the weak-stomached, due to the sheer quantity of blood and needles which we see, nor perhaps for those nervous about an impending hospital visit, Junior Doctors: Your Life in Their Hands is nonetheless an interesting watch, particularly if you want a more realistic view of the inside of a hospital than the one which you might receive from Casualty or Grey’s Anatomy.
Junior Doctors: Your Life in Their Hands airs on Tuesdays at 9PM on BBC3 and is also available on BBC iPlayer.