Whenever I speak to senior doctors, they proffer their support for the younger medical generation. While one might quibble over who faces harder times – then or now – consultants are always buoyed by the infectious enthusiasm juniors bring and appreciate their new skills which can refresh the whole team. Their motivation to make a difference has yet to be dimmed by decades of management meetings and cut backs.
Recently I had the pleasure of listening to a talk by young adventurer Mike Perham. At 14 he sailed across the Atlantic on his own. At 17 he became the youngest person to sail around-the-world single-handedly. He regaled the room – full of mature medical professionals, many seasoned sailors themselves – with tales of his fearless expedition.
We were impressed by his unshakable dedication, his ability to survive in arduous conditions and face challenges that would make others weep. In fact many of his messages resonated with those early days of entering the medical profession. He talked about his body adjusting to sleep deprivation (he averaged just four hours a night at sea) and grabbing ‘bad’ food on the hop despite knowing he was in desperate need of better fuel.
Mentally, Mike found the daily highs and lows of his feat difficult to handle. Like our younger colleagues, adapting to the stark contrast between heroically saving lives and dealing with NHS inefficiency can be gruelling.
At one time during his 157-day solo voyage, Mike realised that he was sailing into the path of a hurricane. Unable to avoid the situation, he was forced to face it head on. He described ‘lorry loads of water’ engulfing him, 50ft swells of water and 55 knots of wind. He questioned whether he would survive and considered what an achievement it would be if he did.
Mike had youth on his side but said that he stayed alive thanks to old school nautical techniques picked up from accomplished sailing mentors charged with preparing him for his oceanic battle. Rather than rely on radar technology like many sailors today, he learnt how to read maps, to navigate shipping lanes and to mend his broken boat with whatever he had to hand. This he believes is what helped him cross the finish line after five months at sea.
It’s good to know that despite such phenomenal advances in electronics and machinery, the knowledge and experience of mature peers is still vitally important.