Macquarie University
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The making and unmaking of a doctor: negotiating identity throughout medical training in Australia

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posted on 2022-03-29, 00:49 authored by Lara M. McGirr
A recent string of suicides amongst junior doctors in Australia has once again brought both public and government attention to their mental health and wellbeing. Current research suggests that training doctors have 'significantly higher levels of distress' than doctors at later stages of their careers due in part to bullying, harassment in the workplace, and an ever-increasing workload. Yet, these young doctors are also individuals with a life outside of work and face external pressures associated with the life stage of 'emerging adulthood' (ages 18-30). Doctoring is more than a job; it is a way of life. Being a doctor becomes an individual's primary identity, and often, their only identity, which influences their ability to cope in circumstances such as negative interactions with colleagues. The one identity they have developed for themselves during their emerging adult life is targeted, and they have no alternative identities to fall back on. A significant part of the problem not yet addressed organisationally is that we have framed these issues in individual terms, such as through the promotion of self-directed learning, how individuals can prevent bullying and harassment, or even how they might develop alternate identities to build resilience to protect themselves against difficult scenarios they may face throughout their careers. This thesis outlines the trajectory of training doctors in the Australian medical education context through the exploration of the lived experiences of fifty informants. These experiences demonstrate the complexity of becoming a doctor within the Australian health care system. They highlight that a combination of educational and work-related issues as well as challenges faced in life outside of work make it difficult for junior doctors to navigate this period of their lives.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Chapter 1: "It feels like you're being churned through a machine..." -- Chapter 2: "I'm just struggling to find my balance..." -- Chapter 3: "I am not really an adult. Like, I'm just pretending" -- Chapter 4: "I have to become comfortable with uncertainty" -- Chapter 5: "I didn't go to medical school to be a secretary!" -- Chapter 6: "I just became cynical and burnt out" -- Conclusion: "I'm a doctor" -- Appendices -- References.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 266-282

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Anthropology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Anthropology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Greg Downey


Copyright Lara M. McGirr 2021. Copyright disclaimer:




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