Emergency and colorectal surgeon Catherine Doran joined the St John Ambulance at the age of seven and knew then that she wanted to be a doctor. Here she describes how she has combined a career as a trauma centre surgeon in Birmingham with her role as a doctor deployed with the Royal Navy.
I qualified as a doctor in 1997 from Trinity College Dublin. While working as a trainee surgeon in Glasgow I joined the Royal Naval Reserve and, realising the challenges that a career in the military could offer, I transferred to the Navy and spent a year at sea as the ship’s doctor. Being at sea means providing a GP service to the ship’s company and carrying out a number of other duties, which differ according to the ship or submarine you’re on. I returned to surgical training in 2003, combining this with deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2014 I spent four months in Africa as part of the UK response to the Ebola outbreak.
I’m currently working as an emergency and colorectal consultant surgeon at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. A typical day for me when I am on-call will vary. Usually our daily ward round starts with a hand-over at 8am but there are often exceptions. Take a recent weekend when I was called to resus urgently at 6am to operate on a patient from a motorbike crash. That day, which involved operating on seven people, turned out to be one of the most challenging 24 hours of my career.
When a patient recovers from surgery and goes home, especially in an emergency situation, there is no better feeling. Most of us enter medicine because we care. Being able to help people when they are very ill is the greatest gift. However, not all cases go well and regardless of how hardened you appear, it can be personally upsetting. After all, that person could have been a member of my family!
Surgery is an amazing career and it is truly a privilege and honour to operate on people but it comes at a cost. The training is long, the length of your day can be unpredictable and it shouldn’t be undertaken half-heartedly. However, it can also be the most rewarding job in the world.
While many people questioned my career path and told me many times that it was a hard choice, this just made me stick my heels in and become more determined. But it’s true that the training, the hurdles and demands that are asked of you means this career will dominate your life. I’ve found that over the 15 years I’ve worked as a surgeon it has been easy at times to become blinkered. One way I’ve managed to broaden my outlook is by teaching. I teach trauma and emergency surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of England and at Swansea University as a tutor on the MSc in Trauma Surgery.
If I had one more hour in the day, I would programme it to ensure that I spent it outside appreciating our world, watching the seasons changing and simply enjoying fresh air. I spend too many hours inside a building with rooms that have no windows! I’ll keep doing this job though - getting that feeling of pure joy when I have a good day can’t be beaten.