Dr Kathryn Bell is currently working as an Obstetrics and Gynaecology Junior Doctor in the Northern deanery. She graduated from Newcastle and Durham Medical school, following entry via the widening access rout ‘Gateway to Medicine’. Her special interests include Medical Education and Surgery, and has been involved in the development of creative anatomy education tools, and resources to improve the care of Transgender Patients. During her time at medical school she sustained her interest in beauty and skincare, recently founding ‘The Northern Doctor’, an educational hub and blog which unites medicine, skincare, and education. Dr Bell is excited to be working towards the MedEd PG Cert from August 2020.
Q1. What advice would you have for adults applying to medicine with widening participation/access?
I’d say go for it! It’s a huge step that can look especially scary when it could mean giving up regular work, and has significant financial implications.
It’s important to involve your family, especially if you have been out of studies for a while, as the workload could come as quite a shock and the support your family can give is essential.
Talk to the admissions office directly, see if it is possible to attend some lectures or speak to students directly about the experience. All medical schools will have different widening access initiatives – I’d recommend researching them all, not just your local university, and start this research early, it gives you time to fill the gaps of your experience.
Even if you have never worked in healthcare, I honestly believe that working in a supermarket, fast food restaurant, hairdressers, retail shop, etc… gives you more experience and skills than something like an expensive volunteer-tourism trip to Africa. You probably have skills you don’t even know you have. Spend a little time writing down your experiences in one column, the skills you demonstrated in the next column, then how this applies to studying and being a doctor in the next. I promise the results will surprise you and put you in good stead for applications and interviews.
Q2. What would be your tips for setting up a blog without spending money?
I hadn’t planned on spending money on growing my blog – for me, it’s something I’m enjoying, something to keep me sane and to help others. I’m still figuring a lot of things out. I’d suggest to use Google to find a host website you like, use social media platforms to find your voice and connect with others, and finally, don’t count ‘views’ – just do it for the love of doing it.
Q3. What would you suggest medical students do from the get-go to build up their portfolio?
Networking. Be brave and introduce yourself to people, volunteer for responsibilities and keep your ear near to the ground for upcoming opportunities. It could also be useful to utilise any funds your university may have to attend conferences (although now they may be virtual – it will be even easier to get involved).
Q4. How has Covid-19 impacted you in the form of FY1 roles?
I was looking forward to my General Surgical role as I’m hoping to apply to surgical training. This should have been rotation number three, but due to Covid-19, I’ve stayed on in Obstetrics & Gynaecology instead.
Many people don’t think of this speciality as being front line, but you can’t stop people going into labour, and there are significant Obs & Gynae emergencies which won’t wait for swab results. We have to manage this risk daily and heavily rely on PPE.
I was assessed as belonging to an “at-risk” group, so was initially moved to telephone triage/telephone clinics. There are definitely challenges in the non-patient facing role, and you worry about becoming clinically deskilled, but you learn a unique skillset which has proved invaluable at minimising exposure risk to patients.
Unfortunately, I had become unwell with Covid-19, but after a period of recovery, I was able to return to the on-call rota, and to mentoring the interim FY1’s.
Q5. How did you get involved in the development of creative anatomy education tools and resources to improve the care of Transgender patients?
Again, the key to this was networking – “shy bairns get nowt”.
I decided to take an alternate elective to my friends, and stayed the UK to work in a unit providing Genital Reconstruction for Transgender patients. I worked really hard and dedicated countless hours to a project, and I’ve been involved in the team’s research initiative since then. Similarly I undertook a project with my medical school anatomy lecturer, and seized opportunities to be involved in teaching (both for the medical school and external workshops). I suppose, even after networking, the proof is in the ‘doing’. By that I mean a willingness to demonstrate that you can to work beyond the scope of “the medical student”.
Q6. During medical school, how does one balance university work with having a part time job?
With great difficulty. It was only when I found myself deep in the overdraft I decided I needed to take on work. But you need to plan your time well and be strategic.
One of my jobs was as a Heath Care Assistant, and this was perfect because you learn about the MDT and the skills that make you a better, more patient centred doctor. The down side being that it was very tiring and I realised it was unsustainable. In the end, starting a mobile beauty service was right for me, and I enjoyed the work, so it was somewhat therapeutic too. Many of my friends worked in café’s, bars and retail outlets – but it would be worth checking what kind of work and how many hours are permitted by your medical school.
Q7. If you could talk to your younger self, what would you say?
Believe in yourself a little more. Everyone has imposter syndrome at one time or another. You’ve worked hard; you’ve earned your place here no matter what anyone else says.
Try to be kinder to yourself, read those books and practice self-care.
You don’t have to attend every social.
And yes, you will be fantastic in the Musical-Medics charity stage show (and no, it won’t get in the way of your studies too much).
Q8. Do you have any words of wisdom for the final year students?
Start early, dig out your old notes, they are probably better quality than you remember.
Work together – you aren’t in competition with each other when it comes to finals, so share notes, organise circuits to practice clinical skills, and maybe take it in turns to bring food.
If things don’t go your way, so what? There will always be other opportunities, and repeating exams/the year/trying something different will only make you better in the long run.
Q9. Did failing final year bear any impact when it came to securing foundation year training positions?
The way you are ranked, the cohort you are in could vary this slightly, but I got my first choice deanery and job combination – so I’m not complaining. If anything it made me a better doctor and better equipped to succeed as an F1.
Q10. How was the jump from final year medical student to junior doctor?
I’m not going to lie, it was a shock to suddenly have such huge amount of responsibility. But the knowledge you gain (especially in revising for finals) helps you massively – you remember things you didn’t even know you had learnt!
I relied heavily on the communication skills models. I worked in Geriatric Acute Medicine, and often had to update patients and their families, sometimes with bad news. It is important to acknowledge the emotional strain of dealing with death and dying.
When all is said and done, I’ve come on leaps and bounds during my first year of being a doctor. I’ve learnt from my patients and my colleagues, I’ve experienced loss and victory, and I’m ready to go do it all again tomorrow.
I would like to thank Dr. Kathryn Bell immensely for taking the time to be interviewed – this short blog will have a lasting impact on so many budding medical students/doctors!!