What do you do for a living?
I spend part of my time as a GP (General Practitioner) and the rest of my time looking after my family.
At my school, anyone with good exam results was advised and encouraged to apply for either medicine or law. I think if left to my own devices I would have applied to do something completely different like archaeology, but I was told that both medicine and law were both good degrees which would leave me with plenty of opportunities and transferrable skills. In retrospect I think I should have stuck to my gut feeling and done the course I was most interested in rather than what other considered to be ‘best’.
What was your journey to reach the role you are in today?
I did a medical degree at Aberdeen University which lasted for 5 years. After that I did a year of pre-registration house jobs before I was fully qualified as a doctor. I worked in Australia for a year as a junior doctor and then took several months off to travel. I’m not sure that medical careers nowadays can be this flexible.
After a break travelling I did some other medical jobs which counted towards GP training. In those days medical training was quite flexible and as long as we did the right amount of accredited jobs it didn’t matter where or when we did them. Most GP trainees will do hospital jobs in medicine, paediatrics, psychiatry, obstetrics and gunacology and accident and emergency.
I had become more interested in ancient history and archaeology while travelling, so I managed to save up some money during these jobs and took a year off to go on an archaeological dig in France and then did an MSc in Palaeopatholgy (study of disease in ancient populations) and Funerary Archaeology at Bradford University. This was a fascinating year which I really enjoyed, which included doing research on osteoarthritis in ancient American Indians in the USA. However by the time I had finished this I had run out of money and it is difficult to make a living out of Palaeopathology!
I then did a years Research Fellowship in the Rheumatology department at Bristol University looking at the evolution of Osteoarthritis. During this time, however, my mum had become ill and I spend some time visiting her in hospital where I was reminded what a big difference a good doctor can make to patients lives. So after finishing my research I completed my GP training by spending a year as a GP registrar within a GP practice and passed my MRCGP (a postgraduate exam).
I then worked as a salaried GP in Glasgow looking after asylum seekers for 2 years. I found this a demanding but very rewarding job. I also worked voluntarily for Freedom from Torture, writing medico-legal reports for victims of torture.
After this I got married and ended up moving to Edinburgh where my husband had got a job. I did some GP locum work there and then got a place on the Retainer Scheme (part time work for GPs with small children). I have since taken several years out of work to look after my family and have recently had to do a returner scheme which involves retraining to get back to work. Working in medicine when you have small children can be a challenge, and it affected my career much more than I thought it would.
A days work as a GP will probably start just before 9am. There will usually be a morning surgery where you can see 8-10 patients followed by emergency appointments. There are then referrals to make, patients to see in the cottage hospital and phone calls to make. After lunch there will be another two surgeries. You will also have to deal with repeat prescriptions and read letters and results from the hospital. Some days you will be the duty doctor when there will be a number of house visits to make, as well as dealing with any emergencies that arise within the health centre. General practice has got much busier over the last few years and most GPs will find it difficult to get time for a lunch break and will be late getting home at night between 6 and 8pm.
Really I had no idea of what being a doctor really involved when I was 18. I had some vague notions of going to work with expeditions or in developing countries.
My dad was very keen for me to do medicine - I think he would have liked to do it himself.
What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?
Really be sure that medicine is what you want to do. Don’t do it just because you get good grades and everyone else thinks it is a good idea. Ideally it should be a vocation - something you feel compelled to do - I think this is the case for the best doctors. It also helps to be really interested in the way the body works and how things can go wrong. It is a demanding career with long hours, tough postgraduate exams and high levels of responsibility and stress. It can also be very serious.
There are some real benefits too though - you will have some great colleagues, you will never be out of work, the salary is good and it is a privilege to be so intimately involved in other peoples lives and to do a job where you are able to help people.
One of the beauties of medicine is that there are a huge number of different fields to specialize in. From paediatrics to care of the elderly, psychiatry, surgery, public health, research, radiology, pathology and much more. Most doctors can find an area in which they are interested.
Even within general practice there are opportunities to expand your role, for example training other doctors, doing research, becoming involved in management or commissioning healthcare.