Coat-pocket poetry

A new pocket-sized poetry book speaks to the experience of being a junior doctor

  • Date: 12 July 2016

“REFLECTING on poetry, and indeed on all the Arts, can produce a different sort of doctor: one who is richer and deeper as an individual.”

So writes Dr Brendan Sweeney – MDDUS Chairman – in the foreword to a unique resource being distributed to all doctors graduating in Scotland in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Tools of the Trade: Poems for New Doctors is a short collection of verse that “speaks to the experience of being a junior doctor”. Many of the poems are written by doctors themselves, including Dannie Abse, Iain Bamforth, Glenn Colquhoun, Gael Turnbull and Martin MacIntyre (who wrote the title poem below).

The volume is published by the Scottish Poetry Library with additional support from the Royal College of General Practitioners (Scotland) and MDDUS.

Copies can be purchased from the online shop at the Scottish Poetry Library – but for a limited time final year students and foundation doctors across the UK can request a free copy from MDDUS. Email us with a note of your address to

Tools of the Trade

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

 late appraisal;

give filing, phlebotomy and form-filling an edge

 and depth;

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

 cardiac arrest

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

 night on-call,

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

challenge, relinquish,

allow, accept

be accosted by dignity.

To forgive and free.

Martin MacIntyre (b 1965) is a Scottish poet, novelist, storyteller and doctor who writes in English and Gaelic

This page was correct at the time of publication. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

Read more from this issue of FYi

FYi is published twice a year and distributed to MDDUS members in Foundation Year 1 and Foundation Year 2 training programmes and final year medical students throughout the UK. It provides a mix of articles on risk, medico-legal and regulatory matters as well as general features and profiles of interest to trainee doctors. Browse all current and back issues below.
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