What I did when I graduated…

Medicine: an insight
My job involves looking after patients with a large number of medical conditions ranging from heart attacks and cancer to the elderly who are medically fit for discharge, but are unfit to go home until care arrangements are made.

Dr Tom Williams, a trainee consultant, tells us about his journey from A levels to PhD graduate and gives us a great insight into the life and pressures of a medic today.

Please state your job title and explain what it entails?

I work on a general internal medicine ward in a large inner city hospital. My job involves looking after patients with a large number of medical conditions ranging from heart attacks and cancer to the elderly who are medically fit for discharge, but are unfit to go home until care arrangements are made. Alternatively to other more specific wards, I see a lot of different illnesses on a daily basis.

Talk us through the educational and career steps you took to get to your current position?

Unfortunately, I didn’t quite get the three A grades needed at A level to get in to medical school first time round, therefore I initially studied for a BSc in Biochemistry at Cardiff University. After getting a 2:1, I then spent time working for a large pharmaceutical company in London. It was a relatively well paid job, but there is no getting away from the fact that you are developing products for profit and not for the common good. I wanted a career where I could help people more directly.

Before applying to graduate medicine I gained work experience in a GP surgery and as a nursing auxiliary (HCA). Spending time on wards doing the unpleasant but essential jobs such as cleaning up bodily fluids really does help focus your career plans. I was eventually offered a place at St Bartholomew’s and the Royal London school of Medicine and dentistry.

After five years, I graduated and got a job at my local hospital working in A&E. This job was high pace, high stress and you can never guess what you are going to see from day to day. I really enjoyed the challenge and this experience set me up for my other jobs.

At the moment I am training to be a consultant and have to complete four jobs that last six months each on different wards. I am currently on my third placement, having already completed a placement in dermatology and on a renal ward.

Why did you choose this career path?

I’ve always had a keen interest in science but found working in the laboratory quite dry. I knew that I needed a job where I could use my scientific knowledge but have face to face contact with the public.

What do you like about your career in medicine?

As a doctor you get to see and do things that people in other career paths could not imagine. I have popped shoulders back into joints, delivered babies, drained fluid from peoples lungs, pulled an insect from a child’s ear and even had to scrub in to help pull a cooking apple from a man’s bottom (yes that’s right, this is the joy of A&E). The job is stressful, tiring but I never get bored!

Is there anything about your job that you dislike?

Don’t go into medicine thinking it is going to be easy. The days are jam packed and the nights are long. You will have to deal with more responsibility in your 20s than most people will have to in their entire lives. Working long hours is a downside, but you need to go into this type of career knowing the bad stuff and be willing to accept that that’s what the job entails. It’s almost impossible to go through a career in medicine without seeing death. It’s sad when we can’t make it better for someone, but you have to be rational and sensible in such conditions

Describe a typical work day for you?

My day starts with a ward round where the medical team sees every patient on the ward. We conduct examinations, review test results that have come back and formulate management plans for the patient’s health. The rest of the day is then spent executing these plans. This involves a range of tasks including performing a variety of medical procedures, ordering scans and blood tests, referring patients to other specialists, talking to relatives and social workers to facilitate patients’ discharge. The day ends with a hand over of sick patients to the night team.

Do you have any tips for students aspiring to go into the same career?

Students need to stay on top of their work while going through medical school. You need to prove that you can work well under pressure because that’s what you will be doing throughout your career. Remember, you must be professional at all times. Also, you can never have too much work experience. Make sure you have asked a doctor or medical student to look over your personal statement and try to arrange a mock interview so you know what to expect when you are applying for a job.

What advice would you give student doctors who are about to graduate and start work?

If you are working long hours, you need to make sure you are getting a good night’s sleep. I know it sounds basic, but when you are on a shift don’t forget to eat. While on call, you will always have a long list of scarily sick people waiting to be seen. But if you don’t eat for twelve hours straight your productivity drops massively and you can’t perform to the best of your ability. Remember to look after yourself so you can help others to the best of your ability. Take five minutes, eat, breathe.

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