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Dr Maria Atkins is a Consultant Psychiatrist working in Haverford West
I was born and brought up in Cardiff and attended a comprehensive school in Ely, which had sent one previous person to medical school. Nobody in my family had been to university and I was not exactly encouraged in my careers interview to study medicine, being told that I ‘needed 3 As for that’. My mother was a nurse and really inspired me to want to work in the NHS.
When I gained BCC at A level, I was surprised and delighted to be accepted at Charing Cross Medical School but disappointed to be rejected from my first choice at Wales School of Medicine, because I had a boyfriend in Cardiff and it would separate us!
I was dreading my 4th year psychiatry placement in the mid-eighties in London. I imagined that the patients would be scary and intimidating and that the staff would be the stereotypical wordy analysts as portrayed in films. I was very sure that as a future GP I would not be needing much of what I would be exposed to on this placement and had heard that you could take it very easy in the psych block. The first patient I saw was a woman with depression – I was asked to take as long as I wanted to talk to her and find out how she had been admitted etc.
I had always enjoyed chatting to people and hearing about their lives and often went back to surgical and medical patients I had seen on ward rounds to talk because they had mentioned something interesting during the day and there hadn’t been time to listen. So I took a long time with my patient and in due course she was being discussed in the large in-patient Multi-Disciplinary Team.
The consultant invited me to contribute as he knew I had seen her, and after initial nerves about what was considered relevant, I recounted some of what I had learned about her life past and current. Everyone seemed so interested in what I had to say and I realised over the next weeks that life stories revealed important factors which were as relevant to the management of the patients as the drugs we were prescribing. I couldn’t quite believe that my curiosity about people was going to come in so handy! I don’t think I ever put in as many hours on a clinical placement and my future was set. With that as a basis for practice I found learning about the theories around the causation and treatment of mental illness fascinating.
Since then, I have been astounded by the variety of careers that can be pursued in psychiatry. The various routes you can take and exciting opportunities in research are many. Encouragement to develop one’s potential and protection of teaching time was my experience as a junior doctor. Working as a part time senior registrar and then consultant was supported by my colleagues and seniors. There is ongoing recognition of the importance of the doctor looking after themselves and structures to support that. But at the heart of everyday practice remains the patient and their story, which keeps me enjoying my chosen specialty and feeling very lucky to have chosen psychiatry.
Maria’s blog was provided by the Royal College of Psychiatrists and forms part of BMA Cymru Wales’s widening access project, demystifying the myths around medicine. Find out more at www.bma.org.uk/becomingadoctor
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