I qualified from University College and the Middlesex Medical School in 1990 after taking a year out following my A-levels. I thoroughly enjoyed my medical training and loved living in London, which I never anticipated I would.
After qualifying, I trained in surgery and gained my FRCS, but was always attracted to emergency medicine and moved into that soon after gaining my exams.
I was lucky enough to have wonderful mentorship and guidance, and I cannot emphasise enough the value of finding senior mentors to provide support and careers advice. I was encouraged to do research and eventually an MD which I was awarded just after completing my higher specialist training. Research is something I would never have considered at medical school and the fact that I enjoyed it came as a total shock to me!
Since then I have continued to have a combined clinical and academic career and in 2010 became the first woman in the UK to be given a Chair in emergency medicine. I have always worked full-time but have also had a wonderful family – a husband and two fabulous girls. This makes life busy and challenging, but highly satisfying and never boring!
I cannot emphasise enough the value of finding senior mentors to provide support and careers advice.
When I look back on my student years and reflect on things I did, I would offer my younger self the following advice. Hopefully others will find it useful too…
Be more confident and self-assured. It's easy to be overwhelmed by seemingly confident, capable, intelligent, beautiful, sexy, popular student colleagues. Try not to be phased by this. These colleagues are often feeling the same way as you do – uncertain, under-confident and intimidated – they just have different ways of self-preserving!
Don't worry about what others think. In the same way you will be bombarded with views, attitudes and new ideas. This is good, but it can be difficult to deal with. However (and welcome to the adult world) from now on you'll have to deal with people who have very different approaches and ideas to you. So get used to it, respect it and keep an open mind. Don't get upset or take things personally.
Don't be afraid to work long hours and get as much clinical experience as possible. Training is short and as an FY1 doctor you need to be able to hit the ground running. So do those extra bits – turn up to theatre, go to the emergency department, volunteer for a bit extra. It is enjoyable and hugely rewarding, and you will be noticed for doing it, which can lead on to other opportunities.
Mentorship. Seek out advice and guidance from others and use it – doctors are very good at supporting each other. If you show you are keen and interested, then it will be repaid in advice and support, which may stretch for years into your professional career.
Don't work too hard. After the earlier bit of advice, an opposite view! Make sure you do relax, enjoy other pursuits and have a good time. You won't get these years again.
Don't worry about getting married and having children! It will happen if you want it to. As a woman I never really 'planned' these things. You will know when you want to do it, but make sure you don't make too many sacrifices along the way that you might regret in future years. We didn't have children until I was a consultant (we didn't really want them before that – having too much of a good time!).
For us it was the right thing – we had done lots of great things as a couple and were secure both in our careers and financially, which meant I could employ a nanny to care for the children when it came to going back to work. Having tweenagers now also keeps me young!
Push yourself to be the best you can be. I am often struck by students and junior doctors today who are very concerned about work/life balance, self-preservation and seem overwhelmed by the tasks ahead. Please don't be. You need to grab every opportunity you are offered, however odd it may seem, and relish it! If you don't give 110% now, you never will, and you will never reach your full potential.
This is your chance to be a great person – take it!