A vulnerable, powerful and uncomfortable portrayal into the NHS

Wednesday, 1st September 2021

Comedian Adam Kay captivates London audience with his honest, funny and heart breaking insight into the life of a junior doctor.

Having recently read Adam Kay’s book ‘This is Going to Hurt’ I attended his stand up comedy show live at the Garrick Theatre.

Upon reading the book, I was struck by how funny and witty Kay comes across. It made me appreciate the difficulty of working in such an intensive environment (Kay previously worked in obstetrics and gynaecology), regularly dealing with emergencies and life-threatening situations, and how humour is a necessary survival tool for healthcare professionals. His stand up did not disappoint, with numerous laugh out loud moments, and creative medical inspired remakes of popular anthems and audience participation. The great thing about the show was that you don’t have to have read the book beforehand. Although if you did, you’d definitely recognise some of the diaries which he read aloud to the audience, you’d still be laughing throughout the show. If you hadn’t, you definitely had a lot to gain from his funny and thought-provoking insight into the life of a junior doctor. 

Thought-provoking it is, as Kay, through his diaries, takes you on a journey throughout his career as a junior doctor, from joining the wards as a House Officer, to accomplish the achievement of gaining the title of Registrar. Whilst the majority of the live show was humorous and focused on the comical moments in his career, there were a number of heartbreaking diary entries that reveal the fragility, not only of life when it comes to treating patients, but also of a system in which the professionals are overworked and under-rewarded. Yes we hear constantly of staff shortages in the NHS, and perhaps it’s taken a global pandemic to realise the true urgency of the situation, but Kay’s portrayal reveals just how much it impacts the lives of doctors. 

From rarely leaving work on time, to missing birthdays, anniversaries, having your holidays cancelled at short notice or having to come back early from your trip abroad, or just having to keep calm and carry on after a traumatic experience, never have I seen a more honest encapsulation of a career which simply does not allow for a work life balance. For the doctors there is no choice – the patient must always come first. 

The most heartbreaking part of Kay’s story is towards the end of his career in medicine. Being the most senior clinician overseeing a traumatic birthing experience, something which after the event he can’t bury and carry on, as he and other doctors do day in day out, and with a lack of support whilst facing such a tough time, he is forced to leave medicine. It isn’t a decision that comes lightly. His passion for his patients, the NHS and the profession is reflected throughout his book and his presence on stage. What is the medical profession’s loss is the comedy circuit’s gain. What was truly joyful at the end of Kay’s show is how he used his time on stage to give a genuine heartfelt thank you to all the staff who keep the NHS running, to highlight how amazing this institution is (which despite its fractures and flaws there no institution comparable in the world) and to pay his respects to the frontline professionals who we have sadly lost during the pandemic. 

I would strongly encourage you to read This is Going to Hurt and if you want to see Adam Kay live, his tour remains ongoing across the UK until December 2021. If you’re interested in medicine and healthcare, the book gives an insight into some of the technical and clinical aspects of life on hospital wards and in the specialism of obstetrics and gynaecology. Kay is careful not to assume his audience understand all the nuances and jargon in medicine, so it’s not an overly complex read. It is a delight to read, with the wit and humour Kay displays throughout the book, and which is ever more apparent during his live show. And perhaps most importantly, in the wake of the current crisis in the NHS, with backlogs of patient care, ever-growing waiting lists and staffing shortages, hopefully, Kay’s diary entries are something politicians will pay attention to when addressing these problems and prioritising the NHS in the future. 

Written by Anjeli Shah


On air now

Coming up

Listen Live