Expert Breakfast Report for 7 March 2018: Dr Phil Blyth, Senior Lecturer (eLearning in Medicine), Dept of Anatomy

What do I want in a job? - I want to be useful, I want to help people, I want variation in my job, I want to be satisfied that I’m making a contribution.”

Dr Blyth entitled the Powerpoint presentation on how he arrived at his present post as “A Series of Disappointments”, and it rapidly became evident from his generally humorous approach that this was very much a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ title. There were a few disappointments along the way, but not enough to prevent a very impressive life.

An early disappointment was just failing to get into Otago Medical School under the ‘preferential entry’ system then in place, but he did secure a place at Auckland Medical School. That disappointment was not made any easier as most of is friends did succeed in gaining entry to the Otago School. Despite saying ‘yes’ to the Auckland offer, he decided instead to come down to Otago and took a course in Maori, Philosophy and Economics, giving him just six hours of scheduled time. While having a very social year, as he put it, and enjoying the Maori, he developed a great appreciation for Philosophy which he maintains to this day.

He then went somewhat reluctantly to Auckland Medical School, and met his wife at a party. He told his friends then that “That is the woman I’m going to marry”, and they were married in his 5th year of Medicine. “She was working by then, so that was good - we had a bit more of an income.”
His plan at that stage was orthopaedics, “You know, orthopaedics try hard to study, talk rugby, all that sort of thing.

At the end of the fifth year he tried to get a placement at Auckland Hospital, but was unsuccessful - another disappointment. Instead, he went to Napier, were he had previously been as a trainee intern in Psychiatry - and had decided then he definitely didn’t want to do Psychiatry. However, he employed the stratagem suggested by a friend of his: “Whenever anyone asks you want you want to do, you say whatever it is that they do.” That way they will tell you how cool their life is, rather than how dull and boring you may think it is.

As a result he was offered a job at Hawke’s Bay as a junior doctor, with no Registrar and the senior doctors on call were half an hour’s travel away. Stressful times.

Phil at this stage was in his third Post-graduate year (PGY 3), and he was studying hard for his ‘orthopod’ exams. He noted how this meant he was so often at the hospital, that he missed a great deal of his children’s development. “Not so cool.

Part 1 exams have a ‘horrendous’ low pass rate - and another disappointment, in that he did not pass. However, he did get a letter to say that, based on his performance, he would probably get
“Whenever anyone asks you want you want to do, you say whatever it is that they do.” That way they will tell you how cool their life is, rather than how dull and boring you may think it is.
through at a second attempt.

His wife’s mother became ill, so they moved back to Auckland, which did have the benefit of being in a main centre for practice and study. He described the process of learning surgery, watching a number of operations of a given type first, then carrying out the procedure a number of times under the watchful eye of an experienced person before going solo - and wondering if you are actually sufficiently competent to do so!

Phil’s mother-in-law died, at the early age of 58, and this sharp reminder of mortality made him review his own life. Prior to this sad event he had visualised what was likely to happen over his own life - career, family, retirement with family visits. This made him think more in terms of living life now, rather than in the future. At the time he was working on the night shift at Auckland hospital thinking “Hey man, what’s going on in your life, what are you doing? Then the sun came up, and reflected on the windows, ‘Hey, there’s gold over there - I’ll go back to Med. School! I always thought research was a load of crock, but I enjoyed teaching. “

One of the researchers was seeking funding for work on chondrocytes, to which Dr. Blyth hoped to contribute, but the funding fell through - a disappointment again, but “actually, I’m colour-blind, and microscopes and I never got on.

In the event, he researches teaching, including virtual reality in clinical learning. At this point they decided to move to Otago for a variety of reasons, first trying for a post teaching Anatomy, then - when the Head of Anatomy said to him, “Phil, actually, I know you now, and you’re a nerd. So you should do e-learning in Medicine.” When a job was advertised at the Otago department, he applied for it, then googled ‘e-learning’ to find out what it was!

Part of what he has worked on is clinical decision making, one offshoot of which was attending a conference in China. He has also partnered the development of an iOS app called "Bonedoc" - Bonedoc is 'a serious game' which allows you to perform virtual orthopaedic surgery, so no patient suffers as you learn.

Currently he is a full-time Senior Lecturer in e-learning with “a bit of Anatomy” and works in the Emergency Dept. when needed and if available - every few weeks, in practice. “But I don’t work any overnight shifts or at weekends, “because I need to live my life as well. What is the most important thing in life? - He tangata, he tangata, he tangata - which means ‘people” .

[Author: I’m afraid that is the 1,000 words I allow myself for these articles. If you want the full story, please try to attend the Expert Breakfasts. Phil stayed on for some time talking to a few members after the ‘formal’ event was over.]

Posted: Tuesday March 27, 2018