‘You are never alone when working in medicine’

by Lucy Dale

Working in a busy ICU at the height of the pandemic helped shape the career path of foundation year 1 Lucy Dale

Location: UK
Published: Wednesday 18 May 2022
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I chose to study medicine because I enjoy communicating with people from different walks of life.

You are never alone when working in medicine as you are always surrounded by a variety of other health service professionals, which makes you feel part of a community.

I think this makes the working environment feel safe and you never feel lonely. I also chose this field as I wanted to learn about different illnesses, how to treat them and, in doing so, improve people’s quality of life.

I initially trained in Scotland at St Andrews University for my first three years, graduating with a first class BSc (Hons) in medicine. After this, I transferred down to Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry in East London to complete my clinical years. 

I was in the final year of my medicine degree during the initial peak periods of the COVID-19 pandemic, working in the ICU for one of the worst-hit hospitals in East London.  My role was in the communications team. In the morning I would call the relatives of patients who were intubated and provide them with clinical updates. Then I would head onto the ICU wards and carry out variety of communication-based jobs, one of which was facilitating face times and phone calls between patients and relatives.

To say it was challenging period for me mentally, physically and emotionally would be a massive understatement. Often the outcome for patients were very poor, with over 90% of patients being intubated eventually passing away. 

I would say one of the most difficult aspects of this was facilitating the last phone call relatives would have with their loved ones before they were intubated. It was especially difficult because the patients would be so breathless that often they could not hold a conversation for more than five minutes. Even now, I get flashbacks of deteriorating patients or patients having their last phone calls with relatives.

As challenging as it was working in an ICU during the height of the pandemic, I was extremely honoured and grateful to be able to have this life experience.  I worked alongside a fantastic team of doctors, nurses, and health care teams. 

One thing that really made me smile was when I would walk onto the ward and see colleagues from across the whole hospital, regardless of specialty, coming to help support the ICU effort. 

This experience has made me realise how important working within a team is and has influenced my decision to pursue a specialty that works alongside a large multidisciplinary team.  I am hoping to apply for a surgical core trainee job towards the end of this year.

I graduated as a doctor in July 2021 and have found working as a woman in medicine to be exciting but challenging. 

One of the main challenges I have faced is that I am often mistaken as a non-medical member of staff by both patients and colleagues. 

I often wonder why this is?  I think it stems from the fact that traditionally, medicine has a strong patriarchal heritage. 

As much as our presence in the profession has grown significantly over the past 50 years and the tireless work our female predecessors have done to advance the standing of women in medicine, I do think more work needs to be done.

In saying this, I absolutely love my job and would not change it for the world. I work alongside some incredible female colleagues, from consultants to medical students.  A lot of the female senior members of staff support female junior doctors in ensuring we are well looked after and feel safe in the workplace.

Lucy Dale is an FY1 doctor currently on specialist surgical rotation in NHS Tayside