The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

s ev­ery­one ready?” I hov­ered on the fringes of the group gath­ered around the se­dated pa­tient, ex­cited but ner­vous, too. I’m 17 years old, I want to be a doc­tor — and this was my first real-life glimpse of doc­tors in ac­tion. The con­sul­tant in charge was grip­ping the pa­tient’s an­kle as he at­tempted to ma­noeu­vre a dis­lo­cated hip back into place. Af­ter a tense few sec­onds, and a lot of wrestling with the leg, there was a sat­is­fy­ing crunch. The job was done.

Back in July I wrote an ar­ti­cle for Week­end about the dif­fi­cul­ties of get­ting into med­i­cal school: there are close to 11 ap­pli­cants for ev­ery place. I talked to med­i­cal stu­dents, aca­demics and doc­tors about how I could boost my chances of at least get­ting an in­ter­view. One key piece of ad­vice I heard over and over was: get some health-care re­lated work ex­pe­ri­ence. I vol­un­teer with Age UK, but I knew I needed more – and that’s how I found my­self ear­lier this month in the Emer­gency Depart­ment at Der­ri­ford Hos­pi­tal in Ply­mouth, where I’d been lucky enough to find a doc­tor will­ing to let me shadow him and his col­leagues over a long week­end (pro­vided I had proof of a CRB check).

It was one of the most fas­ci­nat­ing ex­pe­ri­ences of my life. In the space of four days, I saw a range of spe­cial­i­ties and gained some­thing new and valu­able from each. In the Re­nal Depart­ment I watched an in­ter­ven­tional ra­di­ol­o­gist drain fluid from an in­fected kid­ney: I learnt all about plasma ex­change in pa­tients whose blood re­acts ad­versely to a do­nated or­gan: and I was told about the short­age of donor or­gans and a South West Trans­plant Cen­tre ini­tia­tive called “Reg­is­ter and Pass it On” which aims to get more peo­ple to sign up to the NHS or­gan donor reg­is­ter.

I found the ICU Depart­ment a sober­ing place: one of the pa­tients was a young child fight­ing for its life af­ter an ac­ci­dent. In the Med­i­cal As­sess­ment Unit I watched as the staff dealt with a con­fused pa­tient suf­fer­ing from al­co­hol withdrawal syn­drome and a sus­pected pul­monary em­bolism. The high­light, how­ever, was 15 hours in the bustling Emer­gency Depart­ment where prob­lems rang­ing from bro­ken wrists to over­doses, se­vere sep­sis to car­diac ar­rests raced by.

I didn’t just learn about ill­ness; a large teach­ing hos­pi­tal like Der­ri­ford is the per­fect place to gain an in­sight into health­care pol­i­tics — med­i­cal ad­mis­sions tu­tors will ex­pect me to have an up-to-date knowl­edge of the is­sues. There were dis­cus­sions about bud­gets and con­tracts, and staff talked about re­cent NHS scan­dals and the chal­lenges fac­ing the health ser­vice.

I saw re­cent de­vel­op­ments in prac­tice: for ex­am­ple, clin­i­cal in­ci­dent forms be­ing filled out, part of a move to cre­ate greater trans­parency in the NHS. I saw the ap­pli­ca­tion of new tech­nol­ogy, too: the CT coro­nary an­giogram, an ac­cu­rate new way of test­ing for coro­nary artery dis­ease with­out the need for an in­va­sive pro­ce­dure. And I learned about the va­ri­ety of med­i­cal ca­reers. Not ev­ery doc­tor be­comes a GP or a hos­pi­tal con­sul­tant. On my first day I’d been baf­fled by the num­ber of peo­ple in Armed Forces uni­forms; it turned out there is a large naval base nearby and mil­i­tary medics spend half of their time at the hos­pi­tal. One colonel, who is also a con­sul­tant in Emer­gency Medicine, briefed me on the pos­i­tives and neg­a­tives of be­ing a doc­tor-cum­sol­dier, some­thing I’d never have thought of.

Over the course of my time at Der­ri­ford, I talked to as many dif­fer­ent types of doc­tor as I could. Now I un­der­stand how an Acute GP dif­fers from the kind of GP I’m used to, what In­ter­ven­tional Ra­di­ol­ogy ac­tu­ally means, and how Am­bu­la­tory Care works.

One of the most in­ter­est­ing things I dis­cov­ered was Der­ri­ford’s link to the Masanga Hos­pi­tal Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Pro­ject. Masanga is a hos­pi­tal serv­ing 400,000 peo­ple in Sierra Leone, an area that was dev­as­tated by the civil war that ended in 2002 — in fact, the hos­pi­tal was at one time used as a base by rebel soldiers. Clin­i­cal staff and med­i­cal stu­dents from Der­ri­ford can vol­un­teer to go to Masanga to care for pa­tients and train lo­cal staff. A con­sul­tant in acute medicine, who is one of the vi­sion­ar­ies of the Masanga scheme, told me: “A ca­reer in medicine is what you make of it. I’ve al­ways had an in­ter­est in global health, and so to be able to make a dif­fer­ence on a pro­ject like Masanga is fan­tas­tic.”

Be­ing at Der­ri­ford opened my eyes to so much more than what be­ing a doc­tor is like. It showed me the in­cred­i­ble reach of a health­care in­sti­tu­tion, not only in the com­mu­nity it serves, but far be­yond. I saw the enor­mous ded­i­ca­tion and com­mitt­ment of staff — but also the tremen­dous ful­fill­ment they get from it.

The NHS has had such a bad press re­cently, but I wish more peo­ple could see staff on the front­line like I did, and I’m very grate­ful to the hos­pi­tal for the priv­i­lege. I loved ev­ery minute of mytime there and I’m more de­ter­mined than ever to be­come a doc­tor. Watch this space!

or­gan­do­na­tion.nhs.uk; masan­ga­hos­pi­tal.org

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