Priya has been an active member of the Old Brightonians network since she left Brighton in 2011 to study Medicine at Guy's King's and St Thomas' School of Medicine, and returns to the College regularly to talk to our Sixth Formers about her journey studying Medicine and becoming a foundation doctor. She is a co-founder of Brainbook, the first and only neurosurgical resource dedicated to public engagement and science communication.
When you were at Brighton College, what did you want to be when you ‘grew-up’?
Unlike a lot of my friends at that age, I already knew that I hoped to become a doctor. In retrospect that was a very black and white answer, although I suppose being so sure made the end result really memorable: I will never forget our results day last summer when everyone’s childhood dreams became reality after years of slog (as cliched as that sounds!). I am still asked the same question each day by my senior colleagues!
What do you do now, and what does your job involve?
I’m a foundation doctor. That means I’m the one running around in worn shoes holding piles of notes and doing the less glamorous jobs that our senior colleagues have reserved for me! At this stage of training we spend 4 months at a time working in different specialties and hospitals, which allows us to develop a good breadth of experience before taking the plunge and applying for training in one chosen field. It can be challenging as we are expected to integrate within a new team, develop a new set of skills and acquire new knowledge every 4 months.
My job is as varied as it gets, and I love it for that reason! My day-to-day tasks depend on the patients under my team’s care on any day; they range from managing acutely unwell patients to having long and difficult conversations, and performing practical procedures, with a healthy dose of paperwork alongside!
What are the most rewarding and challenging parts of your job?
The emotional maturity and resilience this job demands can sometimes be a real test of one’s character. As a medical student we were blinded from the difficult moments, so it was a bit of a baptism of fire starting work as a junior doctor. There are times when we feel humiliated, helpless or anxious, particularly when managing situations where we feel out of our depth. Sometimes we’re required to stifle our emotions to maintain a professional front. Those moments are rare, thankfully. There’s always a lot of support and we’re never alone in any situation. For me, that makes the job more rewarding because any outcome in a hospital is as a result of proper teamwork. There’s also the obvious – nothing is more gratifying than making a patient happy and trying to improve their quality of life! There’s something very special about working for people, and I’m really proud to be doing something that seems meaningful.
What are you most proud of so far?
I’ve been working on a public engagement and education project in neurosurgery which we call Brainbook. My resource places emphasis on the patient’s experience, and provides videos, illustrations, interviews, blog posts, and workshops helping to break down the barriers between neurosurgery and the public, and to defeat “neurophobia”. Real patient cases are also discussed on social media (with consent, of course), with videos of their operations and illustrations to explain the pathology.
One of the key moments for me was during my first job as a doctor, whilst looking after a patient at the Martlets’ hospice with a brain tumour. She had found some of the Brainbook resources instrumental in accepting her condition and reducing her psychological pain. At the time we hadn’t yet created any brain tumour resources, but simply understanding that she wasn’t alone with her experiences was enough. That must have been the first time I fully appreciated the significance that our project could have on patients and their wellbeing.
What is your fondest memory of school?
It’s impossible to just pick one! I miss the summers on the home ground, ice pop tournaments in social tennis and bouncing on space hoppers in Williams house. I learnt to fly a plane, scrubbed the floors of the RNLI house, and performed in the enormous flash mob dance! My friends and teachers at the time completely shaped that experience.
Who was your favourite teacher and why?
I have a lot to thank my teachers for at Brighton. They encouraged me to think independently, and gave me confidence to achieve my goals. I’ll always be grateful to Mr. Bird for seamlessly guiding us through the university applications and mentoring us. He was possibly the only teacher who actually asked me why I wanted to do medicine, and focused on the career rather than just the application process. On my 18th birthday Mrs. Withers gave me a red rose; she always made an effort to celebrate the milestones and our achievements. Likewise, Miss Smith my form tutor was always supportive.
The lessons themselves were a lot of fun! Physics with Mr. Smales never felt like work! Our French lessons with Madame Bonheur were intense, especially the one-on-one classes. I came to love the sessions so much that I studied French in my second year at university too.
What was the best piece of advice you were given whilst at Brighton?
A piece of parting advice from my form tutor and house mistress before university was to never give up my passions and to keep reaching for the stars. I kept that card on my wall for years! It’s wonderful to stand out from the homogeneity of medical school, and to be brave enough to try something different and to really go for it. I’ll actually always be grateful for the emphasis that was placed on being a well-rounded person at school, on pursuing any interests, and to give back to the community.
What advice would you give to your 18 year old self?
Focus on just one thing at a time and be patient, as it doesn’t all come at once.