New doctors will be empowered by poems
in the pockets of their metaphorical white coats.
There at the ready:
on early, sweaty, scratchy, ward rounds
to deploy while waiting patiently for the consultant’s
give filing, phlebotomy and form-filling an edge
sweeten tea-breaks as if with juxtaposed Jaffa Cakes
to answer that persistent bleep – while sneaking a pee,
to travel the manic crash and flat-lined emptiness of
thole the inevitability of the inevitable;
to pace with careful cadence;
stop and breathe usefully
arrive ready not to recite by rote;
to be alone with on the boisterous bus home
to txt anxious Mums and Dads – ‘Are you remembering
to feed yourself?’
‘YES. LOL. Smiley-face – perhaps a frog?’
to place strategically on the cup-ringed cabinet – first
thrust under the sun-torn pillow on the morning
following the first night on-call
find undisturbed, but at a different verse, following the
jumpy party, following the first night on-call
to steal insights into the science of nurses’ smiles
to prepare for change.
To take a full history, examine closely and reach a
working diagnosis: ‘You are a human being.’
‘The stars sing as whitely as the mountains.’
To investigate with prudence.
To reconsider the prognosis in the light of better-quality
To appreciate; pass-on; ponder
be accosted by dignity.
To forgive and free.
About this poem
This poem is included in the second and third editions of Tools of the Trade: Poems for new doctors (Scottish Poetry Library, 2016 & 2019).
The 3rd edition of Tools of the Trade is edited by Dr Lesley Morrison, GP; Dr John Gillies, GP and Chair, Royal College of GPs in Scotland (2010-2014); Revd Ali Newell, and Samuel Tongue. We are grateful for the generous support of the Royal College of General Practitioners (Scotland) and The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland. You can read more about the project in here; and read many of the poems online; and you can buy copies in our Shop, and help us give more books to new doctors.
A copy of the first edition was given to all graduating doctors in Scotland in 2014 and 2015, and with support from RCGPS and the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland, to all graduating doctors from 2016 onward. We are very grateful for the individual donations which funded the cost of this anthology, and to the Deans of the Scottish medical schools who made it possible to give the books to their graduating students.