I have had many internal debates about whether I should share the journey that let to my decision to leave clinical medicine and start our own social enterprise, or jump straight into the story at the point BYS was conceived. Would anyone be interested/care?
On reflection, I realised I find huge personal value in hearing the stories of others so decided to indulge my inner narcissist and go for it. I hope this resonates with those who have also struggled to pave their own way through what can sometimes feel like a rather rigid landscape.
I would love to hear you own experiences – get in touch on any of our social media channels @beyondyourstethoscope or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Part one: 'finding myself'
During my first summer of medical school, I went on a month-long volunteer placement to Durban, South Africa with a UK-based student global health charity called SKIP (Students for Kids International Projects). I was young, naïve and wanted to change the world. I learned some hard lessons during those four weeks and came away with a passion for global health and development that changed the course of my career forever. I discovered that through great leadership, a solid plan and developing a team, both as individuals and a unit, you can impact the lives of so many.
'I was young, naive and I wanted to change the world'.
I spent the next 10 years balancing my work with SKIP, medical school and eventually my foundation years as a Doctor. I spent four summers in South Africa and five years in national level positions. I learned that seniority does not always equal superiority when it comes to leadership and innovation. When we had to withdraw the project I had poured my heart and soul into for six years, I learned it is OK to fail.
‘I learned that seniority does not always equal superiority when it comes to leadership and innovation’.
Part two: the Doctor will see you now
I was elated when I graduated from medical school in Bristol, UK. I felt proud, relieved and excited. Even though I knew my future probably did not lie in clinical medicine, I was ready to embrace my new role and responsibility.
I enjoyed my two foundation years after qualifying. Working in a great and supportive hospital (Royal Devon and Exeter, you always have a special place in my heart), fantastic group of colleagues and friends; I was lucky.
‘There were ups and downs. Tears in the sluice room, first peri-arrest panic, missing lunch in the cafeteria. The ultimate of lows.’
Obviously, there were ups and downs. Tears in the sluice room, first peri-arrest panic (A IS NOT WORKING. I CAN’T GET TO B. HOW DO I FIX A?!), missing lunch in the cafeteria. The ultimate of lows. But generally, I was happy. Partly because I found that my skills from SKIP meant that my organisation and lateral thinking compensated for my sometimes patchy medical knowledge. I also found those skills lent themselves well to Quality Improvement so I spent a significant amount of my free time training my peers, strategizing and advocating for change. My favourite activities. Oh. And I met Paul. That worked out quite nicely too.
Part three: itchy feet
Since I got my first job as a waitress at 16, all of my savings have been spent on travel. My first real adventure was a month-long expedition in Borneo at 17. After 4 months solo travelling on my gap year (yah) I truly had the bug and luckily Paul does too. Together, and apart, we have explored some incredible places. The chance to work literally on the other side of the world was too good to pass by, so in 2015 we set off for Dunedin, New Zealand for ‘at most a year’.
‘We spent our first night in NZ on roll mats, freezing cold as we didn’t realise the ‘air-conditioner’ was, in fact, our heating system.’
We arrived in NZ friendless, homeless and generally stuff-less. We spent our first night in our rental house on roll mats, freezing cold as we didn’t realise the ‘air-conditioner’ was in fact our heating system. The first few months were taken up with building our life and community here and exploring this incredible country at every opportunity. For a while it was enough to ‘just’ go to work as an SHO and do my job. After a while though, I began to feel something was missing.
Part four: the low point
When we decided to stay in NZ indefinitely, I knew it was time to start seeking out other opportunities. I struggled. A lot. Over the past couple of years I have tried out academia (not for me), health consultancy (good $, slightly soulless, ask me again in 10 years) and non-clinical DHB Quality Improvement roles. I became increasingly deflated by the lack of support and development opportunities available. The more unhappy I was at work, the harder I found it to care and to enjoy my life outside the hospital.
I grew weary of the following words of 'wisdom':
Just become a consultant. That is how to open all the doors.
You will have to go to Australia.
Why don’t you just do GP. That’s easy.
What is your career plan? You don't have one?!. HEAD BLOWN EMOJI.
You are too young to be a leader (I am 33. Jacinda Ardern is 38. She is running the country).
'The more unhappy I was at work, the harder I found it to care and to enjoy my life outside the hospital'.
Over the same time period I saw so many of my friends and colleagues struggle through indecision and burnout in medicine, both in NZ and the UK. A desire to step off the classical clinical conveyor belt but paralysed by fear about what that might mean. And the impact that has had on their personal lives.
I eventually resigned from my permanent non-clinical role just before Christmas 2018. I was miserable.
Part five: going beyond
'I realised that if I wanted to build an outside the box working life, and to inspire others to do the same, I was going to have to think outside the box'.
Unsure what exactly I wanted to do next, I made a list of what I didn't want. Here is that list. I do not want to...
• be an average GP or a consultant for the sake of my own career progression. It is not fair on patients. They deserve a doctor who is passionate and fully committed to their field. Not one that is doing it as a bridge to something else.
• spend 10 years training to do a specialty just to open doors. I have found it endlessly ridiculous that there is a perception that you need to be a consultant in order to be credible as a clinical leader. It is antiquated, backwards approach that repels innovation and talent development.
• see other doctors leave the profession because they lack the support, mentorship or community to explore all of their options.
• witness poor leadership impacting on patient care because of inadequate training and preparation.
• be on one set career pathway and race up a proverbial ladder just because it feels like the 'thing to do'.
I realised that if I wanted to build an outside the box working life, and to inspire others to do the same, I was going to have to think outside the box.