As our young people have such wide experience of hospitals, maybe it’s not surprising that many of them decide on a medical career for themselves. Here, 27 year old Stuart, a junior doctor, who has auto-immune sclerosing cholangitis and ulcerative colitis, shares his story.
I’d wanted to be a doctor ever since I was little and, even though I was diagnosed with liver disease when I was eight, my parents encouraged me in that dream. Because I had missed schooling due to illness and didn’t get the results I needed, I had to do a prelimiinary year at university to show that I was capable of doing medicine, so I was particularly proud when I graduated in 2019.
I’m currently working in Dumfries. I’m a “Broad Based Trainee” which means I am doing a mixture of Paediatrics, Psychiatry, Internal Medicine and General Practice. And after two years (six months of each) I pick which area I wish to go into and specialise in.
Since I graduated, my health in general has been pretty good. There are some days where it has impacted on my work, but this has been seldom and mainly the ulcerative colitis rather than the liver side of things. I have worked alongside doctors, nurses and various other staff who have treated me and in 2020 I returned to the children’s ward of Ninewells in Dundee where I spent a large amount of my childhood, but this time as a doctor, which was very enjoyable.
It did feel odd at first seeing bed spaces where I had literally been but this passed quickly and there were still some nurses and doctors amongst others who were still there and remembered me. It was a really positive experience.
More recently my liver has unfortunately been ‘acting up’ which has made me feel more run down than usual and we are currently awaiting test results. I did need a little time off work but I am now back on nightshifts which I guess is a good sign. I did used to be worried about how my health would affect my working life but everyone I have worked with, from my own level all the way to the consultants, have been amazing and understanding.
Being a former/current patient definitely has its benefits as a doctor, and I am sure it is the same for nurses or any hospital job involving patient care. Being a doctor is not only about having the knowledge to diagnose and treat effectively but also to build rapport and connect with the patient. I feel this has a huge impact, particularly when working on a children’s ward, as it helps you identify and often anticipate what the child and their family or carers’ main concerns will be. I can definitely remember lying in a hospital bed or sitting in clinics feeling scared and anxious about what was to come.
You don’t necessarily have to disclose your own personal circumstance to the patient but just by being able to relate and openly acknowledge the worries, concerns and queries they have and taking the time to address them as best as possible can go a long way to improving their experience.
In September this year I’ll be starting a Masters Degree at the University of Bath. The course is Football Medicine in Association with FIFA. Anyone who knows me will tell you that football is a particular passion of mine and as well as working in the NHS, I have worked for various football teams in Scotland covering match days which involves tending to players, staff and crowd should anyone fall ill or suffer a significant enough injury. Although this has just been on an ad hoc basis, I have managed to work for Rangers in their B team and Youth teams which has been the highlight of my career since they are my team.
This degree would allow me to get further into football, and even potentially take it up as a full time job doing more than just match day cover. This coming season I will be the first team doctor for Airdrionians (who are currently the league below Rangers and Celtic) something I am really looking forward to.
I’m getting married to my fiancé Chloe on July 13th 2024 (The day before Scotland win the Euros in Germany!) We have a Hermann tortoise named Barry (although we recently found out she is in fact a female) who is nearly four, and a cockapoo named Benji who is nearly two and we hope to have them both at the wedding in some capacity, even though Barry will take her time walking down the aisle!
Chloe works as a paediatric nurse in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow, and although we haven’t worked together yet, I’m sure the time will come. Chloe is planning to run the Glasgow Half Marathon later this year and due to the support that the Children’s Liver Disease Foundation gave to me and my family, she has chosen to run for them. Once I am feeling better myself, I hope to be back running for CLDF as my father and I have done twice in Newcastle at the Great North Run.
I hope this shows that despite being 27 and within the adult services for a decade now, CLDF still means a lot to me and my family and I would like to ensure that young people and their families today receive the same support that we did.
To any young person who has a liver condition (or any health issue really) who is considering medicine, dentistry, nursing or any course which is on the more intense side, if it is what you want to do, then go for it. I started studying medicine aged 19. I thought to myself that in five years I will be 24, regardless of what I do in life. My health may deteriorate in that time, but If I decide not to study medicine due to concerns that my health may prevent me from succeeding then I will be sitting there age 24, thinking about what could have been.
I decided that I would try my best and if my health made it difficult there would be no shame in taking a step back. Fortunately, my health did hold out during university and I can’t imagine myself doing anything else than working as a doctor.
Young people with illnesses often feel like they lack a certain amount of control over their own lives – forever attending appointments, procedures, taking medication, having blood tests despite never wanting it and never having asked for it. Unfortunately, these aspects don’t tend to disappear once you are an adult. So, my advice would be to take control of what you can and work hard to become the person you wish to be. We are one group of many that in the game of life have been dealt a poor hand but make the most of it so you can always look back and say truthfully to yourself that you don’t regret the decisions you made and how you took control of what you could.