How are you feeling about your tour?
I’m very busy at the minute, but working as a junior doctor affects your barometer for lots of things. Nothing makes me tired anymore and nothing particularly makes me stressed – I could get to a theatre that had burnt down overnight and I’d just be like okay, sure that’s fine. When your day job is filled with emergencies everything afterwards is barely relevant – at least it’s impossible for me to get stage fright.
Was it your dream as a young boy to be a doctor?
No, and I think my life would have been different if it was. Being a doctor was the default setting for my life if I didn’t come up with a better plan – I come from a family full of doctors and went to a school that churned out a lot of doctors and lawyers, so I ended up sort of stumbling into medicine. It is an amazing profession and it was a privilege to do it, but when you make the decision to do medicine when you choose your A Levels at 16… That’s a very bad age to decide to do anything really, let alone what you want to do with the rest of your life.
What don’t people realise about life as a junior doctor?
That even passion isn’t enough. I was passionate about it – I got the most amazing joy doing the job when it was going well, but it’s more about how you can cope when things don’t go well. They don’t check how well you’re going to deal with the bad days when you apply to medical school. If you want to be a train driver, they’ll make you speak to a psychologist about how you would cope if the worst happened and someone jumped in front of your train. If you want to go on Big Brother, they’ll make sure you’re not going to crack under the cameras. If you want to be a doctor there’s nothing like that, and I think there should be. I suspect I probably wouldn’t have passed that test because I didn’t pass the real-life test a number of years later.
Do you think your book might encourage some sort of guidelines to be put into place?
It’s an issue with the culture of medicine, but I am starting to see a bit of a shift in that culture. I’m not saying it’s because of me – there’s a huge number of people fighting the same battle at the moment, but I’ve been invited to speak at lots of events that never existed before. People are talking about this very thing – how we care for the carers and making sure we’re letting the right people into the profession.
You fell into medicine, but what about writing – have you always had a passion for that?
Yes, always. I’ve always been sort of a frustrated writer I guess. I worked for the school newspaper, worked on plays, then at university there’s this tradition of terrible medical school sketches. I think it’s as close as medicine has to teaching people a coping mechanism. Then when I became a junior doctor I would jot down the silly, funny and odd things that happened to me that day.
Did you ever think those jottings might get published?
No I really didn’t. I left medicine in 2010 and the diaries just sat in a filing cabinet. It wasn’t until the government went for the junior doctors and they went on strike that I realised how little the public knew about what the job actually meant as they believed what the government told them about us being greedy. That made me think that I should do something to amplify the junior doctor’s voice.
The first thing I did was take the diaries on stage at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2016. That’s the first time I read out from those diaries, and even at that point I didn’t think it was a book. But someone from a publishing house came along to that show, and afterwards she asked me how many diaries I had because she thought it might be a book.
What’s been your most memorable moment since the release of This Is Going To Hurt?
I get all these updates from publishers saying I’m being translated into various languages and hit a million copies sold, but actually the most memorable things have been the smaller things. I was on a train and saw someone a few seats away reading a copy of my book. I thought about what to do but I couldn’t work out a way of going up to them that wasn’t totally mortifying – what if they hated it?
What do you hope people will take away from your book and shows?
I left the job because one day a terrible thing happened to me at work and that’s what stuck with me. I left the profession because I realised I couldn’t cope, and I talk about that every day when I’m on stage because I think that’s a powerful way of making people realise that doctors are humans. People don’t want doctors to be humans because humans make mistakes, but they are. They get sick and sad and I don’t think people realise a lot of the strain that doctors are under. But there’s the hope that next time the government decides to attack junior doctors, the hundred thousand people who’ve seen my shows and heard me speak will hopefully think about it in a different way.
Adam is currently touring all over the country, visit www.adamkay.co.uk for dates and venues.