This Doctor Can: making positive changes to junior doctors’ lives

Dr Billy Cheung, former chief registrar at Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, talks about the changes he made during his time as chief registrar, and the learnings that got him there.

Born in Hong Kong, I spent part of my childhood there before moving to the UK. There were no doctors in my family and I never even considered medicine as a career. But 20 years on, I’m doing a job I love, so I know I somehow made the right choice!  

When I first became a junior doctor, I never imagined I’d so soon have the ability or authority to implement necessary and positive change in the workplace. But becoming a chief registrar changed all of that …

I spent my chief registrar year at Homerton University Hospital (a great place by the way) and very soon discovered a weakness in my life skill set – time management. As an ST7 in acute medicine I was used to relying on the heavily structured specialty training I’d received: you must attend a certain number of clinics, see a certain number of patients, perform a certain number of a procedures within a rigid timeframe and so on. Our timetables were always filled with activities, ward rounds, clinics etc. 

When I first became a junior doctor, I never imagined I’d so soon have the ability or authority to implement necessary and positive change in the workplace.

Dr Billy Cheung

But when you are suddenly out of that system, with 50% of your time focused on ‘leadership and management’, all of that structure goes out the window. It can feel both liberating and daunting at the same time. Best of all, it finally allowed me to devote some time to working on something I felt passionate about – in this case, improving junior doctors’ workload.

On a personal level, I managed to eat lunch every day and decide when to have it too (wow). I drank lots of coffee and got to finish on time. Win-win, right? 

But what I underestimated was that time can disappear very quickly. With a big project, there can be a lack of direction at times, particularly at the start of the year. As a result, it was not unusual to sense a lack of achievement at the end of some days, which was difficult to digest. 

The good news is, this is an amazing learning curve in itself, and there is always support available. Oh, and it turns out that it happens to everyone.  

Luckily, I had an approachable and supportive supervisor who was invaluable in guiding me throughout the year. He was able to introduce me to relevant staff, provide checkpoints for tasks to ensure progress and give me advice along the way. Later in the year, when my co-chief registrar Grace Walker joined the hospital, we made tremendous progress. As a result, we are now proud to have a new dedicated overnight junior doctor for deteriorating patients. 

So, how did I improve my time management? You may have heard of the ‘Timeboxing’ method, rumoured to be favoured by Elon Musk, where your working hours are divided into say, 10-minute blocks, then tasks are assigned with an estimated completion time into blocks within the day. I am in no way claiming to be this efficient in the real-life setting, but I have loosely adapted this method for my to-do list on certain days. Being a chief registrar for the year certainly made me become more aware of the need to develop my time management skills and I have since become far more aware of when I am procrastinating!  

This chief registrar year has been one of the most useful experiences in my career so far, and now that I have transitioned into consultant life, I can genuinely recommend it to get a head start in skills you would otherwise have to start picking up along the way as a new consultant.

Would you like to share your experience of becoming a doctor? Get in touch on Twitter via @thisdoctorcan.