For me children and career are entwined in a complicated relationship of progression and pause. Had I never had children I would never have become a doctor.
My journey to becoming a doctor began 16 years ago when I was pregnant with my first child. I encountered the medical profession in ways I never had before, saw amazing doctors who were brilliant role models. The decision to become a doctor was an epiphany, a complete realisation that this was the job I should have done all along. Deciding to do this at a time when I was about to become a mother seemed ridiculous and absurd. My career aspiration was set within a few minutes of my epidural ‘kicking in’. I went from the worst pain in my life to no pain whatsoever. That was it, from that moment I had to do that job. I was 28. The anaesthetist was a magician in my eyes. How he knew what drugs to use, where to place them and to what effect. This was something I simply needed to do.
From that point my journey to become a doctor has taken what seems forever. The journey has been complicated, hard but extremely rewarding. I spent the next 6 years holding my dream.
Just six more years.
I was working in my other career but most of all raising my two girls 5000 miles away from where I wanted to go to medical school. I volunteered in a hospital developing x rays, watching births, making coffees and many other things to see if the job would be worth the sacrifice it would entail.
I waited and waited until I could apply to medical school. I wrote to the BMA. I should have kept the email they sent. They told me that very rarely did people over 30 get into medicine, and indeed their brains did not have the ability to absorb information and learn quickly enough! I applied and was rejected. I waited again and applied again, this time receiving two fat envelopes inviting me to interview at Bristol and Kings the day after I was told my husband had lymphoma. I explained to the Universities and withdrew my applications. I applied the following year and was invited to interview at Bristol.
Just one more year.
This time I flew 5000 miles and arrived to be asked first in interview ‘you didn’t just fly all the way from America to do this interview did you?’ ‘Umm, yes.’ was my answer. I was 33.
I was unable to do the five year course as I did not have science. No bother, I was delighted to do the six year course.
Just one more year.
My first day in medical school was awful. Starting on the 6 year course I was given a physics exam which I could not do. I thought they had made a huge mistake giving me a place for I would never be able to pass this course. I passed. Balancing medical school with family was hard, but not impossible. As I mentioned the two are entwined. Exams always coincided with school holidays, so when others revised I was making craft projects and cooking dinner. My marriage did not survive and in the third year I made the decision to carry on my degree despite great personal and financial hardship. I felt like I was racing against the clock, trying to finish my course before I got too old. During my time in medical school I always knew it was anaesthetics for me. SSCs, placements and electives confirmed it and I worked hard to demonstrate my commitment to specialty.
Unexpectedly I remarried 2 months before finals and became pregnant with my 3rd child. The job I had finally waited for was due to start when I was 20 weeks pregnant. I was advised not to start. But I’d gotten the anaesthetics and ICU F1 job I wanted and couldn’t wait to start.
I was extremely ill during the pregnancy and developed pre-eclampsia. I decided to go part time doing F1 over two years,which again wasn’t part of my planned career journey. Yet, more time to wait to start my anaesthetic job. I met with a careers adviser for support in my first 3 weeks of F1. She told me that ‘I didn’t stand a hope in hell’ of getting an anaesthetics job and in fact told me I should give up medicine altogether! I politely said that I hadn’t sacrificed so much to get to this point and give up. She also said that my CV would not be as competitive as my ‘younger counterparts’.
Just one more year.
My husband and I were keen on more children. Having had my third aged 40, having another one seemed a challenge. Another clock was ticking. But aged 42, I finally had my last and fourth child. This added another year to F1 training.
Just one more year.
F1 seemed to last forever. It was extremely difficult. But I kept my enthusiasm alive by hoping one day I may get an anaesthetics job. I worked hard on audits, presentations, publications, courses and as much as I could to demonstrate my commitment to specialty. In my early 40s, I attended my interview. I knew it would be tough as needing to stay in this area means tough competition. But I know that not having the luxury of time I had to worked hard to get the job.
Waiting one month for my interview results was hard. I was gutted to see that I did not get an anaesthetics training place in Severn. There were 21 jobs and I scored 24th. I was upset to see my lowest marks were awarded for commitment and reflective practice; the two things I had worked most hard on over the five years.
But I am delighted to say that I applied for a place through clearing and I am now doing ACCS Anaesthetics in Wales from August. I shall be commuting to South Wales from Bristol. I am very excited to finally be training in the job I have waited years to do, I shall be, ahem, 40-something. I am also really excited about joining Wales Deanery. There may be twists and turns, hurdles and roadblocks but eventually I am getting there; making sure I enjoy the journey along the way.
If I see you I will beep my horn across Severn Bridge.