|7 Feb 2022
|Old Girls' Association
Where are you working at the moment?
I work as a doctor in the Emergency Department (A&E) of the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. We are one of the COVID-19 hubs so have been managing a lot of suspected and confirmed cases. It quietened a lot over the summer but it’s getting busier now. We are prepared for it though as we knew a second wave would come. We have our PPE, we are wellfunded and well-staffed. I’m lucky to be a member of such a superb team.
As a COVID hub, we are a specialised unit where the best treatment and skills are available in one central place to treat cases from a wide surrounding area. Our A&E department is split into two sections, one for anyone displaying COVID symptoms and the second section for all other patients. Anyone testing positive for COVID is then moved into a specialist ward. As a rule, we tend to work half our shifts on the COVID side of A&E and the other half in regular A&E.
Is that what your normal job was before the pandemic?
Yes. I originally trained as an orthopaedic surgeon and worked as such in London for many years. It was a great specialty but I ended up working myself into the ground and so, after a sabbatical which I spent driving round Africa with my husband, we decided to move to the countryside and I started work as an A&E doctor at the John Radcliffe. I enjoy it more than my previous job as there is less bureaucracy, which means less paperwork and more time to treat the patients.
I love working in A&E because I get to help people in their absolute time of need. Of course I have good clinical skills but I also pride myself on my good communication skills and empathy, and I feel like these are skills that make all the difference to people when they come to the department in extremis. Taking the time to explain things well really helps them understand and come to terms with things.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
The emotional side of it - seeing the fear in the patients’ eyes. They are really worried they might die and never see their loved ones again as no visitors are allowed (for obvious reasons). We have to find the difficult balance between reassuring them and not lying to them.
So what keeps you going?
The team spirit here is brilliant. For example, back in the springtime we were having some building work done and we had no staff room, so a couple of our bosses gave up their office so that we had somewhere to grab a tea or coffee. We also have three WhatsApp threads at work - one for clinical messages, one with funny posts and the third with tips for safeguarding our mental health and wellbeing. Talking to people really helps and my husband is a huge support with this. He is so easy to talk to and we often go out for walks together, chatting as we wander. On Sundays we have a family get-together on Zoom which is great, even if everybody tries to talk at once sometimes! I’ve also started doing things to help me relax. There’s a great yoga teacher on YouTube who I’m following and I’ve been growing vegetables too. My ‘cut and come again’ salads on the window sill have been amazing! Working in Emergency Medicine is also very flexible so I do get time to pursue my hobbies and can do fun medical things outside my day job, such as teaching. I teach the ATLS (Advance Trauma Life Support) course at centres around the UK and also Expedition Medicine. In Expedition Medicine, I am the doctor on treks to remote places, so I’ve climbed Kilimanjaro several times as the medic supporting the groups and climbed remote stretches of the Great Wall of China. Next year, I have been booked to accompany a group climbing to Everest basecamp.
Do you have a message to others?
I hope this doesn’t sound corny but… be loving. Check in on your friends and neighbours, especially if they are elderly, to see if they need help with anything and just look after each other.
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