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Richardt Janse van Rensburg: Medical doctor - permanent casualty doctor
What does a day in the life of a casualty doctor entail?
This varies from one trauma unit to the next and one day to the next. A trauma unit is a 24 -hour service, which means you never have an eight to five job. The breakdown of shifts varies a lot, depending on how busy it is. Mostly we do 12-hour shifts; some during the day and a few night shifts.
As far as clinical work is concerned, most of the work we do in a trauma unit is basic "GP practice" work. We stabilise and treat almost any sort of trauma or medical emergency. If the hospital is not equipped to treat a specific patient we stabilise and transfer him or her to the nearest hospital.
An unfortunately large part of the job is administrative work. Another part of my work is clinical governance and organising clinical meetings.
Why did you decide on this career?
I love trauma. I love the adrenalin. I love the responsibility. I love to be able to make a huge difference in someone's life over a short period of time.
How did you get into this career?
After my community service I went into GP practice while doing some after-hour locum work. After a few years I got bored and frustrated with the GP practice setup.
What's challenging about the job?
Getting patients with non-emergency problems to understand that though we function as a 24-hour GP practice, we are primarily an emergency unit and emergencies will always get preference over colds and flu.
What do you enjoy most in your job?
What type of person will make it as a casualty doctor?
One who can work with people. People skills are very important when dealing with someone in pain or discomfort. You have to be confident in what you do and be able to take charge in an emergency . Not fainting at the sight of blood is a plus.
What subjects do you need to pass in high school?
I am not sure if it has been changed since I applied, but we had to have above 70 percent for math, science, English and Afrikaans on higher grade. Biology was not compulsory, but recommended.
What does one study at tertiary level?
A bachelor's degree in medicine and then a few advanced life support courses (trauma, cardiac and paediatric)
What are the growth prospects?
As long as there are viruses in the air, cars on the roads and liquor stores on every corner, we will have something to do. To grow in the profession means you have to keep up to date with new technology. The possibility also exists to specialise in trauma medicine. One could also become a lecturer.
What career opportunities exist for a casualty doctor?
It can be used as a stepping stone to earn money before specialising . Some doctors locum in casualties while they specialise .
Most private casualty units are run as a group practice with a few permanent doctors, and locums filling in the rest of the shifts. The highest you can go in a setting like that is to become a partner. There are some companies that manage more than one trauma unit, where there is the opportunity to rise a bit higher - which means more administrative work.
You can specialise as a trauma physician, which will take up another five years after your six-year medical degree, two-year internship and one-year community service. There are also other post-graduate qualifications you can add to your name. These can be done on a part time basis.
What is the starting salary for a casualty doctor?
R200 to R300 an hour in the private sector. Government doctors earn less.