Bibliophile | Dr Nikki Stamp explores life, death & everything in memoir ‘Scrubbed’

By Nikki Stamp
Allen & Unwin

Nikki Stamp remembers being inspired by heart surgeon Dr Victor when she was young, and now she is only one of 11 female heart surgeons in Australia. In Scrubbed, she reflects on the journey – from the brilliant times to the darkest times.

Stamp dispels any notion that working in a hospital is anything like what is portrayed in ER, Grey’s Anatomy or House. She points out that hospital life is not punctuated by a series of intense relationships which are paused occasionally to care for the sick and injured. But there are definitely heroes albeit without the histrionics.

The memoir is certainly an eye-opener and is an insight as to why, when half of medical graduates are female, only 12% end up becoming surgeons. The training is physically and emotionally exhausting, and over ten years after leaving medical school Stamp’s life was still nothing but work and study.

She was to find out that medicine, and surgery in particular, was a pyramid scheme where only a select few were allowed to make it to the top. Along the way were inhumane hours, chronic sleep deprivation, tragedies, bullying and bureaucratic nightmares. Anyone suffering from burnout (or worse) was explained away as “not being cut out for the job”.

Also she had to willfully ignore years of sexism as a junior doctor and regrets not being able to challenge the entrenched and insidious mistreatment of female doctors. She believed she was tough enough to survive the environment but each time she didn’t speak up meant that the behaviour became more ingrained … and accepted.

The problem was that Stamp loved surgery and the cast of amazing people who supported the miraculous surgeries that brought lives back from the brink. It was everything else that was getting her down and she thought “you can’t get out of bed at 3am for a job that you only have lukewarm feelings for”.

Stamp reflects that she shouldn’t have to rely on career highs to offset the all-pervading lows and stressors that seemed to become more frequent with each passing year. When she started writing this book, she didn’t know how it was going to end. She didn’t know if the final chapter would see her walking away from the career she had fought so hard for or whether she would be reinvigorated and find new opportunities.

Stamp says, “I don’t think that it’s solely my story though; the stories in this book are more of a way to start a conversation as to how healthcare can be done better for staff and patients alike, how red tape hampers us and how creating an environment where doctors and nurses can thrive can only mean good things for patients.”

Lezly Herbert

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