Last week I had a big adventure. It may not have seemed big to most people, but it was so far out of my comfort zone that I almost talked myself out of even trying.
For a start, I left Cornwall!!
Here I am, on the train, crossing the Tamar Bridge, which marks the divide between Devon and Cornwall. Now some Cornishfolk have been known to have panic attacks at the mere thought of the Tamar, but I held it together, despite the fact that I was off to the big smoke of London, by myself, to be staying in Central London, alone for the first time in my life, to be away from my children for the longest time ever, with a big challenge ahead of me…
I made it to Paddington, navigated the tube (down escalators are in my top three greatest fears, so the tube isn’t exactly my happy place), and found my hotel in Covent Garden, a very serviceable single room in a Travel Lodge.
This was to be my base for the next three days as I attended the Royal College of Surgeons, learning to become an instructor on Advanced Trauma Life Support courses.
I have been a participant on the Advanced Trauma Life Support course three times in the past. It is a course I need to take every four years to keep up to date with the principles of trauma. It is taught by a faculty, which in my experience has been predominantly male, made up almost exclusively of consultants and with a large proportion of surgeons. I never really considered teaching on it myself, despite the fact that I have looked after trauma patients on a regular basis for almost ten years now, have taught about trauma care to junior doctors for years, with training and extensive experience in leading medical simulation teaching. I think the fact that I didn’t see people like myself on the faculty I assumed that they didn’t want people like me. The third time I took the course though, my male, consultant mentor suggested I put myself forward as a potential instructor, so I went for it, not really feeling expecting to be asked!
I have spoken before about my choice to be a specialty doctor, a non-training grade who can stay based in one hospital, in a permanent role, in the same department long term, with no plans to become a consultant one day. This allows me to stay in one place, to let my children stay in their home, go to school and see their friends without having to move every year, without me having to spend long periods of time living away from them. Having some flexibility in my working hours whilst being able to work full time. I am happy with that choice, but there are definitely times when I hear sarcastic, derogatory comments about specialty doctors, and it is hard not to take those on board. There are definitely times when I feel like I’m just not as good as those people who follow training rotations and become consultants. Sometimes it is hard to remind myself that I have made conscious decisions to be able to stay with my family, in an amazing part of the world to grow up, whilst working full time and financially providing a home and a life which provides us with lovely experiences. That’s not such a bad thing to have achieved!
Wesnesday morning I rock up at the Royal College of Surgeons, and as I had expected there was only one other woman taking the course, and only one other specialty doctor. The faculty was almost all men again, with only two female doctors there. Sitting there at registration coffee hearing all the participants chatting about their training programs or their consultant jobs, I couldn’t really shake the feeling that I probably shouldn’t be there. It was very nice to chat to some other Emergency Medicine doctors though, hearing that all around the country they were seeing their patients on trollies in the corridor, that they were routinely going over four hour waits on their night shifts. It is a terrible thing that Emergency Departments have been allowed to get to this point, that our hospitals are so full, and social care in our communities is so lacking that our elderly are left to sit on cold trollies on corridors for up to twelve hours, and sometimes even more, when at their most vulnerable. It was good to hear though that it’s not just our hospital that has got to this point, and that there are still doctors around the country who have total enthusiasm and passion for our incredible specialty, and are still determined to provide the best care they can in very challenging circumstances.
The course started with a written exam, which definitely challenged me, than ten hours of lectures and assessed practical sessions. It made my brain hurt, but you know what? I loved it I learnt so much, and when I was actually in those practical sessions, demonstrating my teaching skills, well I didn’t feel inferior anymore I didn’t feel like I didn’t deserve to be there, that I was the odd one out. In fact I totally held my own, and got some really lovely feedback. By the end of the second day when I was finally told that I had passed, the exam and all the practical sessions, and that I could now go out and teach on my next ATLS course I felt pretty damn proud of myself, and proud that it was ok to chose a different career path, whilst still being damn good at my job.
So whilst I’m aware that I’m not exactly going out there and smashing any glass ceilings, it’s ok to make the right choices for my career and my family. And maybe on one of those courses I will now be teaching on, there may be a candidate there who feels that she is represented on the faculty, and feel like she would be welcomed to take that next step too.