I came across Medic Footprints in a manner perhaps apt for my generation: Facebook. I can’t help being suspicious. In this Big Brother world we now live in, did social media know I’d been desperately googling ‘alternative careers for doctors’ over the last few months? I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.
In any case, I was glad of it. It was an advert for ‘Alternative Careers and Wellbeing for Doctors’, an event which promised inspirational talks by ex-doctors, exhibitions on other career options, career coaching, seminars, workshops, mentorship, advice on health and well-being and plenty of networking opportunities. I jumped at the chance. I didn’t care about the expense of the ticket – it felt like a necessary investment in my future.
Now, since I’ve already resigned, I was a bit worried about going to the event today. I was nervous that it would make me regret my decision. The first talk was to be ‘Do I Really Want to Leave Medicine?’ What if the answer was no? What if someone there presented an opportunity within medicine that I hadn’t considered and wished I had?
Still, I went along with mixed expectations. I soon realised, as is common with me, I had been worrying about nothing…
The first talk was by Dr Evgenia Galinskaya, founder of Other Options for Doctors.
Cambridge-educated and clinically excellent, Dr Galinskaya beat off fierce competition to land a registrar post in dermatology. Despite having worked so hard to get there, and outstanding feedback from her colleagues, she found herself missing something in her life, and made the difficult decision to leave medicine to pursue a new life in career coaching.
“Two years later, I don’t make as much money as I did in the NHS, but I have found an inner peace… You have to do what makes you happy.” Dr Galinskaya
She spoke about her emotions at the time she left, and they resonated so strongly with me: guilt about quitting, fear of leaving a steady salary and job security for an uncertain future, a sense of wasting her medical training… It was as if she were taking my current sentiments right out of my mind and giving them a voice. It was hard, she said, to convince those around her that leaving was the right option for her. ‘Once a doctor, always a doctor’ they said.
She even said that she had tried to leave before, but had been persuaded to stay. Her expression of her feelings had been rejected by her peers and mentors. Have I not been through exactly the same thing? When I dared to mention my thoughts about leaving to my educational supervisor earlier this year, I was met with an immediate warning not to waste my education or make rash decisions. She didn’t ask why I wanted to leave, or even consider that it was an incredibly difficult and agonising decision which I have taken literally years to make. Instead she dismissed me with advice that ophthalmology was a good career for a woman.
Anyway, I digress…
In short, Dr Galinskaya was funny, frank, open and inspiring. I knew immediately that I had made the right decision, and my relieved heart opened up to the rest of the day.
There was so much going on. I wished I could have been in two places at once at times, as I wanted to absorb as much as I could.
The Doctors’ Mental Health in the Workplace session turned into a hilarious argument between the controversial and sharp-tongued Psychiatrist Dr Raj Persaud and Dr Andy Heeps, a Fitness to Practice panelist from the GMC. Dr Persaud made some extraordinarily blunt comments about the NHS today – how it stifles creativity and ‘crushes’ innovation while the GMC seek to persecute doctors in the most distressing way possible. He claimed that there was a fundamental difference between those who see being a doctor as just something they ‘do’ as an employee, and those who see it as something they ‘are’. The latter see medicine as their vocation and their calling, and in Persaud’s words, ‘actually give a shit.’ If you’re willing to tow the line and bow down to the rules and regulations put in place by the management, then you’ll be fine in the NHS. However, if being a doctor is something you ‘are’, Persaud claims that your fundamental loyalty lies in providing the best patient care and in pure science – the two things that lie at the bottom of the list of priorities in the NHS. This causes extreme stress in doctors who care.
Perhaps this is a slightly harsh view of the NHS, but it certainly struck a chord with a lot of us who are frustrated with the system’s almost authoritarian demand for obedience and its indifference about what’s best for patients.
Next up was Dr David Perl on his incredibly varied career as a physician, and how psychotherapy transformed him from an arrogant narcissist into a leadership guru. He had some great quotes on his slides:
The talk about Occupational Medicine by Dr Richard Peters was interesting, as he seemed to suggest that it was possible to find lucrative work as an in-house occupational health practitioner for large private companies without having done any work in occupational medicine within the NHS. I don’t really want to go into the field, but it did make a very interesting point about the difference between the public and the private health world. Dr Peters has built up an excellent reputation, worked for a variety of companies and has a very diverse experience, yet he would never be able to get a job in the NHS as a consultant as he hadn’t gone down the ‘normal’ route. He would have to go back to the beginning, take a pay cut and go through the whole rigmarole of applying to specialty training.
After lunch, Dr Charlie Easmon took us through his story of business success, then failure, and then success again. We met a panel of doctor entrepreneurs who were still working for the NHS and somehow finding the time to develop their businesses. Then Dr Na’eem Ahmed made us all feel humbled with his incredibly moving and impressive presentation about his philanthropic work with his charity ‘Selfless’.
In the breaks I met everyone from medical students considering their first steps, to foundation trainees taking ‘F3’ gap years and registrars contemplating a specialty change. I also met Dr Gyles Morrison, who made a huge impression on me. He had a different take on the guilt many of us felt about ‘wasting’ our medical education:
“Who here did a geography GCSE?” (Several hands go up) “Well why aren’t you all weathermen then?”
It’s true. My friend who did a history degree isn’t an historian, and she doesn’t feel bad about it.
Gyles, a covert artist and musician in his spare time, was a profound reminder that medics are often multi-talented all-rounders with hidden talents. The fact that he left medicine to work in IT and is now an expert in user experience technologies was inspiring enough, but Gyles himself is filled with so much passion and so much energy that it’s truly infectious. He questioned me with a genuine interest about my writing – what’s my novel called? What’s it about? I answered almost with embarrassment, as I currently lack any kind of confidence in my literary exploits. It was the first time I’d really talked about my book with a stranger, and I was touched and reassured by Gyles’ belief in me and his conviction that my plot was a good one.
Speaking of writing, there were two presentations by doctors who wrote poetry and stories in their spare time. Dr Shabnam Parkar, a Great Ormond Street paediatric surgeon who called herself ‘The Lyrical Surgeon’ read us a couple of her poems after making the point that the birth of Medicine in Ancient Greece was as much about Art as it was about Science. She described how her poetry made her a better doctor by allowing her to create a deep empathetic connection with her patients and see things from their point of view. One of her poems, about a dying baby, was incredibly poignant and moving.
It got me thinking, why can’t I do that? Why haven’t I sent of any poems to magazines, applied for any competitions or signed up for open mic nights? It’s because I’ve never considered that I could be good enough to do any of those things, so I’ve never bothered to even try, but in front of me today was living proof that I could be good enough, and people will want to hear my voice.
Other exhibitions and talks I didn’t make it to included army careers, management consultancy, working overseas, medico-legal careers, aesthetic practice, CV management, pharmaceutical work, medical volunteering at festivals, mindfulness, acupunture, yoga… There was something for everyone, and all the delegates I spoke to felt the inspiration and positive energy that infused the Grand Connaught Rooms today.
Afterwards, I spent some time with the founders of Medic Footprints: Dr Abeyna Jones and and Sara Sabin. They had been up since 5.30 am preparing for the event and were understandably exhausted! But I can’t thank them enough for this experience.
Walking away from Medicine was never going to be easy, but the actions of people like Abeyna and Sara make it just a little bit more bearable. Today’s event has given me reassurance that I know what is best for me, faith that I have enough transferable skills to be successful elsewhere, and the belief that maybe, just maybe, I can follow the dream of becoming a published author.
After all, I’m sitting here writing this blog right now.