From the 11th to the 13th of April I completed some work experience in the eye department of Bournemouth hospital. This involved shadowing a consultant in surgery and in the eye clinics, as well as various other healthcare professionals who took me under their wing. All I can say is wow! It was a fantastic experience and reminded me all over again why my heart is set on medicine as a career.
My first day was a full day in theatres, which caused me great excitement as I got to be in scrubs for the morning and afternoon! I love that every bit of work experience that I’ve done is totally different and it’s great to see the contrast between surgery in England and the surgery I was able to observe in a private hospital in Cape Town in the summer. What struck me initially was the complete friendliness between the theatre staff: everyone was on first name terms and you could tell they all had total respect for each other. In a later conversation with a urologist (who I was also able to observe in surgery) it was explained to me that a lot of the ‘name hierarchy’ that used to prevail in hospitals has gone. This is good for a number of reasons: it takes pressure off the consultants if something goes wrong, as there is a recognition that the theatre team are working together, and it allows the person performing the operation to be corrected or challenged if necessary, which puts the patient in a much safer position. It also contributes to a convivial atmosphere in theatre, which creates a great working environment. That said, there is not a total lack of distinction between the staff as that would lead to anarchy! If a surgeon requires a piece of equipment, one of the nurses will happily get it.
I saw an incredible variety of operations, which highlighted that what at first could seem like a fairly narrow specialisation (eye surgery) is actually a lot broader and this opened my eyes to the reality of why it takes such a lot of training to get to consultant level. Sitting in the clinic, I was provided with asurgeon’s well-used manual of ophthalmology and was again awed with the detail and breadth of the specialisation. Perched with it on my knees, I was able to look up conditions as the patients came in, which gave me a deeper insight into what was being discussed (although to understand what’s going on there’s a whole load of vocabulary that needs to be learnt!) I got to observe operations ranging from Cataracts to Ptosis (which is the drooping of the upper eyelid) to the reconstruction of the area around the eye following tumour removal: an incredibly interesting operation, employing a lot of plastic surgery techniques. It made me aware of just how wide the medical world is and how impossible it is to get bored when there’s so much more to learn and discover. One of the operations carried out used a novel technique designed by the surgeon I was shadowing and it was a privilege to be able to see this and acknowledge that I was observing something that has never been tried by anyone else.
A lot of the eye operations were done under local anaesthetic and this coupled with observing clinics allowed me to experience a lot of patient interaction. I was impressed with how patients were dealt with and the kindness and respect they were shown. Patient contact is one of the factors that is important to me and a principle reason why I want to be a doctor. It was wonderful to see the amount of patient contact that comes with being an ophthalmologist and how personal relationships can develop with patients over the years. No two patients can be dealt with in the same way: different approaches are required for each patient and a number of variables must be taken into account, such as age and quality of life. I was told that eye surgery is more about quality of life rather than life expectancy, and I would argue that quality of life is of upmost importance. Lots of people came into the clinic just in need of reassurance and it was great to see people leaving more at peace, which is – in my opinion- the exact embodiment of what is means to be a doctor.
I also had the opportunity to sit in with an optometrist for part of an afternoon and see what other health care professionals do and how they interact with doctors and nurses; another great example of how diverse the team involved in patient care is. In addition, I shadowed a urologist carrying out a prostate operation, then watched the removal of cancerous tumours from a patient in another theatre. This was a major highlight as it allowed me to see the different dynamic between the staff in each theatre. All I can say is everyone has a different style of working, but each operation was consistent in how cohesively the staff worked together as a team in a way akin to that of an army! I was able to observe more evidence of the wider team that goes into managing every patient when I got to accompany a surgeon on his meeting with other healthcare professionals, including neurologists, to discuss the brain scans of patients, with suspected eye conditions. It was fascinating to see how brain tumours could affect the eyes, but also to experience the knowledge of the neurologists working together with the ophthalmologists to decide on the best course of action. It also became evident that you never stop learning as there were questions thrown between the two specialisations, improving understanding on both sides.
For each operation I observed I was talked through the procedures, not out of the expectation that I would retain everything but more so that I could understand the why and how as to what was occurring. This was fantastic and I am incredibly grateful that people took the time to do this. I was given in-depth explanations and endless diagrams which allowed me to appreciate the procedures more fully and deepened my interest in the science behind the operations.
Not only was the medical experience great but I was also given advice for applying to medical school. I was impressed with how interested people were in what stage I was at, why I want to do medicine and the advice numerous registrars, consultants and nurses were able to give me. I was told by one consultant that medicine as a career is not without its challenges, but that none of these problems are insurmountable. From what I already know and what I have seen this time around, I would agree wholeheartedly: like all careers there are some negatives to being a doctor, but I have had first hand evidence that none of these challenges are unconquerable and that the benefits vastly outweigh the inconveniences. Being able to help patients while constantly learning, changing and evolving as medicine develops and grows is all part of what makes it such an incredible and rewarding career. Once again, I am totally smitten for medicine and completely grateful for the privilege of being able to walk through ‘a day in the life’ with experienced medical professionals.
ASIDE: If I could have taken pictures of the surgical procedures I would have, but patient confidentiality deemed this impossible. It’s probably best to spare you as I discovered that discussing pus leaking out of eyes, including graphic descriptions, does not make for best dinner-time conversation. So, you will have to cope with some pictures of me in scrubs instead!