Meeting Sir Liam McDonald for the First Time (Blog 1)

Meeting number 1: November 2014

I couldn’t quite comprehend that today was the day I was going to meet Sir Liam Donaldson for the first time. I knew that I would be nervous to meet someone so prestigious; what would he think of me? What would I say to get across who I really am and my career aspirations? On the journey down to London I decided to really reflect on what it was I wanted to achieve from the mentoring relationship. For our first meeting, I decided that I just wanted to be myself, and hope that I could just show my personality a little and build a mentor-mentee rapport before I went too heavy on career discussion.

When I arrived at our meeting location, I was greeted by a wonderfully polite and welcoming Sir Liam, where we began our discussions over tea. What delighted me the most was how fantastic Sir Liam was at not only building a rapport with me instantly, but being very serious about what advice he could give me and potential opportunities, all at the same time. He was able to judge my aspirations and ideas from brief conversation and give his sincerest advice accordingly.

The most thought-provoking element of our conversation was the potential career pathway I may take after graduation. I have spent the past few months thinking very seriously about which medical speciality I may wish to choose, as in Medicine there are several, each with its own path to qualification. I had always wanted to do hospital medicine, such as General Medicine or Geriatrics, but having considered how I may incorporate Health Policy into my clinical career, and incorporate a family and lifestyle; I have been veering towards General Practice as a path. General Practice would allow me to control my hours more so than hospital medicine, and there are also many opportunities for policy-related work, considering that more power is being brought into the community and local CCGs. Having come to this decision, which would require me to “give-up” the potential of an exciting, hospital environment which I always desired, I was very interested to hear Sir Liam’s thoughts on my ideas.

Sir Liam first suggested a career in Public Health, which, to be honest, I had never really considered, because Public Health has very negative connotations to a medical student of ‘boring statistics’ and ‘people who just work with infectious diseases’. Public Health is not a very well advertised field in Medicine, you will never do a clinical rotation on it in medical school, and I didn’t even know what the training pathway was! Sir Liam opened up my eyes into what Public Health could actually entail and the opportunities it could bring. He also raised the importance of how Public Health will allow me to become accredited and qualified in Policy-related work, which would allow me to do more than simply having an interest in Health Policy on top of my clinical work. In addition, he notified me of some of the drawbacks of General Practice in relation to Health Policy, in that General Practice would allow me to assess Health Policy in one community, but it would be difficult to extrapolate this to a nationwide or indeed an international level. I knew then that I would quite seriously have to consider what Public Health may be able to offer as a career.

What I did not realise, though, was that doing Public Health would mean the end of my clinical career. Public Health is pretty much 100% non-clinical and I would never see patients again. This really is an incredibly difficult concept for someone so young in their career and who has worked toward Medicine for many, many years because of the view of helping people. Although Public Health would allow me to help many, many people, rather than just the patient in front of me, am I really able to cut all ties with my clinical career so early on? Can I really accept that I will never have that face-face interaction with a patient again?

Leaving clinical medicine is never something I ever thought I would consider, certainly not until I was at least much older. But Sir Liam has made me consider what it is I really want in my career. Do I want to spend up until I am 30 years old training to be a GP, if I am just going to want to do Health Policy at the end of it? I could have built up my skills and portfolio in Public Health for several years before I even reached this point. But do I really want to end my clinical career and any interaction with patients before it’s really even begun?

Fortunately Sir Liam is very understanding of the torment that Public Health Doctors go through when making these vital decisions about their own lives and career paths. Sir Liam very kindly offered me some shadowing experience with some of his colleagues where possible, so that I could see more about what Public Health really involves.

The plan of action now is to let Sir Liam know of my availability for work experience or shadowing, and we will see what happens after that. It is clear that I have a lot to think about before then!

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