Dr Dana Phang is the voice and mastermind behind the podcast Junior Doctor’s Corner. Dana, a final-year GP trainee, created the podcast after being surprised at the lack of support for junior doctors. Dana’s goal is to help medical students and junior doctors not only survive but thrive in their careers.
I think I started internship wearing rose-tinted glasses; I thought it was going to be fantastic. I had offered to swap with a fellow intern who had just had a baby and take a placement in a very small rural town. The lead up to starting had been very reassuring; we were told that it was normal to be nervous and that we would be well supported. I thought, I’ve got this!
My first day as an intern was far from well supported. I was given no orientation; we were short-staffed, and I was basically left to fend for myself on the ward. Luckily, mainly thanks to the pharmacist and nurses, I fumbled through that day. But towards the end of it I thought, OK, it’s been a hectic first day, I haven’t had lunch, but I have survived. And then the time for the evening doctor to take-over came and went. The only other doctor in the building, who had been covering ED, headed home but reassured me cover would arrive soon. Almost as soon as he left, a patient was wheeled up from ED that I had not been told about. They had been admitted with an NSTEMI and were due to be transferred to a tertiary hospital. I had the Royal Flying Doctor Service on the phone asking questions that I did not have answers to; the nurses were pressing me, anxious for a plan for the patient. I just burst into tears. One of the senior nurses took things in hand - she called the evening doctor, liaised with the ambulance service and sent me home. That night I thought, well, things can only get better. This was probably just a one-off.
My first day as an intern was far from well supported
But I came in the next day to the senior doctors asking me so many questions – why did you cry, why didn’t you do this or that, all sorts of things. One doctor pulled me aside and told me to never start a rotation without orientation, that I should have demanded one. Another told me I should never cry in front of the nurses, that I had lost their respect. I felt horrible, I thought I wasn’t cut out to be a doctor. I managed to pick myself back up and finish that rotation. It all left a very sour taste in my mouth. I felt like I never received the support I needed.
I was back in a city for the rest of my intern year. I started looking around thinking, why is everyone else so happy, relaxed and cruising through this? I felt like that duck paddling frantically under the water, barely keeping calm on the surface. I eventually started to think, it can’t just be me, surely there are others that are struggling as well.
I realised how unwilling junior doctors were to talk about struggling on the job
In time though, I realised how unwilling junior doctors were to talk about struggling on the job openly, worried they would be seen as not coping. No-one wants to admit that they have been the one locking themselves in a bathroom cubicle crying. I thought, what if I can help another doctor with similar experiences feel like they are not alone. I decided to use podcasting as my medium. I thought people could listen to a podcast on their way to or from work, almost as a bit of a pep-talk.
Evolution of the podcast
There is still a culture within medicine that if you are struggling you should just suck it up and carry on; this is my way of fighting back and saying that I disagree. Just because that's the way it has been for many, many years, it should not stay that way.
My philosophy was never to gain thousands of followers and listeners. If I could make a difference in one junior doctor’s life, change how they feel about medicine or themselves, it would be worth all the time and energy.
I spent months going back and forth, scribbling down ideas and topics, asking a couple of close friends what they thought and throwing names around. Eventually, Junior Doctor’s Corner was born.
My philosophy was never to gain thousands of followers and listeners
I started out by interviewing a couple of friends – partly because it was hard for them to say no and it helped me build confidence. From there, I would keep stumbling on future guests, usually through word of mouth. We are now about 45 podcasts deep. That isn’t huge compared to other podcasts but for me, it is a good achievement given I am balancing full-time work as well. I am almost at the end of my GP training – hopefully the last year of major exams for me!
My experience of ‘going beyond’
Reactions from others when you decided to pursue a non-clinical path
I have received a lot of positive comments and encouragement; much of this has come from senior doctors. To be fair, most of them are pretty progressive and already active in the space of supporting junior doctors. But I have yet to come across anyone who has asked what on Earth I am doing, that there is no way to change the culture of medicine. Several consultants have said they wished they had this resource when they were more junior. I have really appreciated those comments.
Several consultants have said they wished they had this resource when they were more junior
I have also had great feedback from junior doctors and medical students – some of them even getting in touch asking what they can do to help; they want to be part of the team. It hasn’t always been like this though. In the first year of the podcast, I received very little feedback except from the people I was interviewing. I didn’t want to even look at how many people were listening because I didn’t want that to affect my passion for it. I thought, if there is one person listening and this impacts them in any positive way, that is enough to keep me going.
Now, the podcast has been going for two and half years and I am getting more direct feedback. Using social media also allows listeners to engage more actively. I think it is very normal for humans to want a bit of reassurance. We have evolved to have a group mentality. We are not designed to be completely self-assured and able to constantly self-validate.
If someone wanted to pursue a similar role, how could they go about it?
You need to have a very strong reason for starting in the first place. Because if you are ever feeling a bit defeated and deflated, you need to be able to remind yourself of that reason. Every time you produce content that is aligned with that reason, that keeps you going. Also, you can have podcast with audio that is perfect and crystal clear. But if your message isn’t clear, if your heart isn’t really in it – people are not going to listen. People still used to listen to my old episodes even though the audio was crackly and there was an echo – they were there for the content.
You need to have a very strong reason for starting in the first place
It is great to draw inspiration from what other people have done – there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, not having to start from scratch. I am happy to admit that I drew inspiration from other podcasters and bloggers. Not just within medicine either, I looked far and wide at things like fashion blogs to get ideas about branding and marketing.
When I started, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t too bogged down by meeting deadlines. I wanted this to be a source of enjoyment, a way to exercise my creativity rather than it becoming a chore. Initially I was only producing an episode once a month; it is now fortnightly.
Finally, always remember - progress over perfection. As doctors, we are often perfectionists; but perfection doesn’t really exist! Just jump in there and do it – you will do better as you go along. If you (and please don’t!) went back to my first podcast episode, you would hear the difference in sound quality, there was a lot of background noise and sometimes the way I asked questions seemed sort of stilted and unnatural. When I started, I didn’t have a podcasting microphone, I literally just used my mobile with earphones.
Always remember - progress over perfection
But the main thing is starting, putting yourself out there and you will improve as you go along. Better to look back and think maybe I should do this differently next time, rather than kicking yourself thinking I shouldn’t have done that. My interview style has definitely morphed and changed as the past couple of years has gone by. And then something will come along that will launch you to the next step. For me, that was interviewing Dr Izzy Smith who has a large social media following. Suddenly, so many more people started listening.
Avoiding the comparison trap
We are all human and tempted to compare ourselves with our peers and others doing something similar. If I constantly compared myself against other medical podcasts, I would have stopped doing it by now. But if you looked at their work five years ago, they will almost certainly have been less polished. No one starts out as a blazing 10 out of 10.
Sticking with it
Perseverance and consistency are very important. A lot of blogs and podcasts fail not because the content is terrible but because people give up, they stop being consistent. The motivation dwindles.
I usually have a topic in mind of what I want to cover in a specific podcast episode. I then approach a guest and ask if they would like to come on the show. That usually takes a couple of weeks as you have to work around their schedule. The recording itself takes around 40 minutes per episode. The editing takes around two hours depending how nit-picky I am feeling. I then put it through a website to remove background noise, upload it, write a bio, produce the artwork. That probably takes another hour. So, it is a lot of work, though we only produce one episode fortnightly. That makes it achievable.
I’ll be honest, it is a pretty expensive hobby. We are trying to start monetising the podcast; we had the first ever sponsored episode earlier this year, which is great. Until we can generate enough revenue, I do the majority of the episode with some help from a team member. I actually really enjoy that process because I get to listen back to the interview again!
If you could go back to your medical school graduation day and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Following a plan doesn’t work; things will unfold the way they need to unfold. Your medical career is not going to turn out the way you imagine but in so many ways it is going to be better than you expect. There will be hard times but there will also be a lot of wonderful and pleasant surprises.