Dr. Catherine Donnelly is a Foundation Year 1 doctor in the North West, who graduated from the University of Manchester following completion of a BSc in Cancer Biology and Immunology from Bristol and time working as a Nursing Assistant. Dr. Donnelly’s current rotation was planned to be in Acute Medicine, but due to the current climate is instead working on a COVID ward for patients with ward-based ceilings of care. In her spare time, Dr. Donnelly runs ‘Learn Do Teach’ which is a virtual learning platform for medical students, in addition o enjoying running, baking and travelling!
Q1. When did you decide that studying medicine was what you wanted to do?
I considered medicine during secondary school as I enjoyed biology and wanted to work with people! However, I did some work experience and met some doctors who put me off. I instead pursued a science degree but hated working in the lab. I took on a role as a nursing assistant after finishing my degree to gain some hospital experience, which I loved, and so decided to apply for medicine. It was not easy, but I’m so glad I did it!
Q2. Which year of your medical degree at UoM was your favourite and why?
Probably second year. In my first year, I was so excited to be studying medicine that all I did was study, and I did not do much socialising! In my second year, I relaxed a little and began making more friends – and actually having a social life!
Q3. Do you have any tips for current medical students?
Medicine attracts very competitive individuals who have a tendency for perfectionism. I feel it can be quite easy to place too much importance on studying and building your CV. Whilst this is important, it’s also important to relax and have fun. There’s also a lot of emphasis on figuring out what you want to do early. When you speak to most doctors, they will have changed their minds a million times! Medical school is an amazing time to meet new people, trying new hobbies, and experiencing different specialties. I’d recommend taking advantage of that and trying to experience as many different things as possible!
Q4. Where did you undertake your elective, and do you have any tips for current medical students planning their elective?
I did my elective in Cuba with a sports medicine doctor. This sounds very cool in theory, but I actually would not recommend it! I’ve lived in Africa and had a much more comfortable life than I did there! Cuba is awesome for travelling, but not great for living in.
I had friends who went to Sri Lanka and New Zealand, and loved their electives in those places.
Q5. What made you decide on the North West Deanery?
The North West deanery is well known for providing great foundation year teaching and opportunities. Also, the North West also some great cities in it, Manchester and Liverpool. Hence, its a very popular choice! I am also engaged to a Mancunian, which obviously influenced me staying – ha!
Q6. Have your ideas for a speciality of choice changes since staring as an FY doctor?
Definitely! At the end of my 5th year, I had decided I wanted to do plastic surgery/ENT/breast surgery. My first FY1 job was working in stroke medicine. I really enjoyed the medical on-calls, which made me question whether I wanted to do a medical specialty. My second FY1 job was in breast surgery, which actually put me off breast surgery! However, I really enjoyed working in other surgical specialties. I now plan to apply for surgical core training – but have no clue which surgical specialty I will end up in!
Q7. Is there anything you wish you knew before staring your FY1?
Don’t make any plans during the first few weeks of starting as an FY1. There are so many social events happening that you won’t want to miss out on!
Also, plan to have some ‘work light’ placements eg. Psychiatry or paediatrics. These placements don’t have so many on-call shifts, and will give you a much needed break during FY.
Q8. What support do you get as a junior doctor from senior colleagues and your trust, and would you say it is enough?
We have a monthly junior doctors forum where we can raise any concerns we may have. I have found my seniors to be very responsive to concerns raised. I also represent my hospital at the North West foundation forum, where junior doctors from other hospitals in the North West collaborate to solve issues at individual hospitals. My trust support me to take time out to go to these meetings. I am also very impressed with the response of my hospital to the COVID-19 pandemic – we have never been so well-staffed or felt so looked after!
Q9. How do you maintain working, alongside continuing to study and having time to spend away from being a doctor?
It is a very tricky balance. I would recommend planning examinations around placements where you anticipate you will have more time to study e.g. psychiatry, paeds, GP. Work-life balance can be particularly hard during busy placements e.g. A&E, medical rotations. I’d recommend being easy on yourself and not expecting too much of yourself in those rotations – you really need your R&R when work is busy!
Q10. During your first year as a doctor (FY1), has there been an experience that has stayed with you and/or affected how you approach work following it?
Every doctor has gotten something wrong at some point. It’s important to reflect on such events and learn from them. If you’re unsure of how to manage something, ask for help !
I would like to thank Dr. Catherine Donnelly immensely for taking the time to be interviewed – this short blog will have a lasting impact on so many budding medical students/doctors!!