Dr Camilla Kingdon, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

Published on: 9 Mar 2023
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AUTHORS:  Dr Sanketh Rampes and Dr Anvarjon Mukhammadaminov 

In this series the Medspire team interviews doctors about their career, their specialty, the choices they have made and their advice for doctors and medical students.

Today, the subject is Dr Camilla Kingdon, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. Dr Kingdon is a consultant neonatologist with a long-standing interest in medical education, and is passionate about enhancing the working lives of paediatricians and boosting team morale.

A podcast of this interview is available here:

 

How did you get to where you are today?

I grew up and went to school in South Africa. I went to the University of Cape Town, which is where I did my undergraduate degree. It was a six-year degree, and a fantastically good medical education when I look back. I didn't realise at the time how good it was. 

The professors and the senior lecturers took huge personal pride in teaching undergraduates, and so we were taught by some fantastically good clinicians. Being in an interesting mix between low resources and then some quite high-tech, sophisticated medicine, we had the most amazing opportunities to learn good clinical skills and good clinical decision-making. 

In addition, there was an excellent student group called ‘SHAWCO’, which had mobile clinics that would run in some of the very poor areas around Cape Town, including some of the squatter camps. Medical students would go out and do these clinics under supervision of a trained doctor, and I can remember going out to many of these clinics. 

It was always after lectures had finished in the early evening, and the patients would be queuing up, waiting to be seen. We arrived at our big mobile clinic to see the most incredible cases. It was very humbling to realise how important your clinical skills were. 

We didn't have any high-tech equipment with us, and so it was a brilliant opportunity to be exposed to healthcare in a low-resource setting - I feel very privileged to have had that undergraduate experience. 

I then did my house jobs, which was the equivalent of what we would now call ‘foundation’, and at that point I was set on becoming an obstetrician and a gynaecologist. I then started my first senior house officer post in obstetrics and gynaecology, and quickly realised that, as fascinating as obstetrics and gynaecology is, I wasn't a surgeon at heart, and obs and gynae is a surgical specialty. 

I did six months of that - which was a brilliant experience. Ultimately, I was to become a neonatologist,  so it did give me a fantastic exposure to the maternal aspects of pregnancy and childbirth. 

I then decided to come to the UK and experience life and medicine here, initially with the idea of just doing it for a couple of years, before going back to pursue a career in adult medicine. I did an adult nephrology job at the Hammersmith Hospital, and then adult intensive care and cardiology at the Whittington. 

Both were absolutely incredible jobs, but I suppose it led to me feeling that my ability to make an impact on people's lives was very restricted. I came to realise that, actually, by the time you're dealing with people who may have quite entrenched health habits, and may have diseases that are some years down the line, your ability to really make a difference to people's lives and to their health outcomes, for me, felt very limited. 

I became increasingly frustrated, and that led me to deciding to try some paediatrics. I didn't think I was going to enjoy it because I really hadn't enjoyed it as an undergraduate, and so it was a real step into the unknown. 

I'll never forget my first senior house officer job in paediatrics, which was at a district general hospital in Greenwich. It was extremely busy. We were always short of staff. We saw some really challenging safeguarding, and some really sick children. 

But within weeks I had found my natural place. It was just thrilling to be able to work with families - with children where, actually, your opportunity to potentially positively influence their lives was greater. 

I also loved working in a non-hierarchical,multi-professional team. So that's how I got into paediatrics. And I've never looked back. I then completed my training in paediatrics in various London training schemes, and I've been a consultant neonatologist at the Evelina London Children's Hospital for the last 20 years.

I have no regrets. I have a fantastic clinical professional life, and having done some adult medicine and obstetrics and gynaecology, it gave me a brilliant base. So when I talk to people who are embarking on their careers, I will be very open with them, and say that it never does you any harm to sample different specialties. 

There's always good stuff to learn from other specialties, even if that isn't going to be your ultimate career destination. I think one shouldn't feel nervous about being brave and taking some stand alone posts in other specialties and seeing what you get out of it. All of it is a useful experience. Ultimately, it makes us more interesting and better-rounded doctors.


 

You initially disliked paediatrics at the beginning of your medical career. What made you change your mind?

There's something about children that means that you can be thrown off your course and caught unawares. I was at a stage in life where I quite liked my white coat and I quite liked being in control when I was on my clinical placements. 

There's nothing like going on to a children's ward where you often have to get down on your hands and knees to examine a child, because that's going to be the only way they're going to sit quietly for you to listen to the heart sounds or the breath sounds, or whatever it is you're doing. I didn't like that when I was in my early twenties. 

I closed down my mind to thinking about the possibilities that paediatrics offered. I also found the fact that children can very rapidly become extremely ill quite frightening. So for all sorts of reasons, I thought: ‘I don't think I could cope with that’. 

The thought of experiencing children dying felt beyond what I wanted to do as a doctor, and so at that undergraduate stage, I decided it wasn't for me. It was easily my lowest exam result at the end of my training. 

I must have psychologically switched off to it. But it was only a few years later where I was just a bit more clinically confident and a bit more mature that I realised the opportunities that working with children and families offered, and how much it fitted with what inspires me about being a doctor. 

I come from that slightly altruistic, ‘wanting to make an impact on people's lives’ journey into medicine, because that was what appealed to me about it. And I suppose, as those few years ticked by, I realised that working with families and children was where I could make the most impact. 

So from a personal satisfaction perspective, it then became the specialty that had the greatest appeal. That's why I did that whole 180-degree turn around, and found that, ultimately, it was the best place for me. 


 

What makes an exceptional paediatrician?

I don't think there's a single answer to that because paediatrics is a huge specialty. We deal with babies as young as 22 weeks' gestation, premature gestation, all the way to 16, 17 and 18-year-olds in some services, and you can't compare with a 22-week premature baby. Our skill set and the kind of work we do is so diverse and different. 

The majority of paediatricians are general paediatricians, and they are proudly generalists. They are able to look after premature babies, as well as teenagers and everything in between. Then about 30% of paediatricians are subspecialist paediatricians, and we have 17 subspecialties,  including paediatric rheumatology, paediatric neurology, and neonatology - which is what I do. 

The skill set you need for all of these is so diverse and different. But generic to all paediatricians is the need to be good at communication, be that with families and children, but also with your colleagues within the wider multi-professional teams. So you do need good communication skills, and to be a team player. 

Paediatrics and child health is very much about a team-based approach. None of us can work successfully on our own as a doctor. We're all totally reliant on nurses, allied health professionals, and other subspecialist doctors.  

Good communication skills and good team playing skills are vital to all paediatricians, but after that you can be an academic, be based in a community, work in tertiary care, work in district general hospitals. There's just so much diversity, which makes it a hugely attractive career prospect.


 

What advice can you offer to medical students and junior doctors who are interested in pursuing paediatrics as a career?

Take your time. There is no rush. Whether you like it or not, you're all going to be working until you're 70 years old. So there isn't a rush to commit to a specialty the minute you come out of F2, or even earlier. Explore the options. Get a real sense of what interests you, what enthuses you. Test out some of your ideas. 

If I hadn't done an obstetrics and gynaecology post, I would never have worked out properly that it wasn't what I wanted to do. I'm hugely grateful for those six months that I spent doing it, because I completely put to bed the idea of becoming an obstetrician and gynaecologist, and yet learnt some really important stuff that I've been able to use as a paediatrician and neonatologist. 

I'll also never regret the year I spent in adult medicine. It's been massively helpful, but it helped me work out that that wasn't the career prospect that I wanted. Everybody in this country has to do F1 and F2. I, increasingly, challenge people to think about doing a year or two more - to maybe travel, or do some standalone posts within hospitals around the country. 

You might want to do some quality improvement work. Really research your career prospects robustly in that time, before committing to the specialty.

If you do want to be a career paediatrician, there aren't a lot of paediatrics in the undergraduate curriculum now, simply because the  curriculum is enormous, and there are so many other competing aspects within the curriculum. 

Likewise, there are many foundation programmes that don't offer many or any paediatric posts. I often talk to medical students and foundation doctors who really want to be paediatricians but are agonising because they just don't feel they're going to get any, or enough paediatrics. 

What I always say to them is: 'Don't worry about it’, because actually, the aspects of child health and the other aspects that you will need to use as a paediatrician, you can get from all sorts of other posts. For example, most foundation doctors will do an A&E post. 

There are bound to be some transferable skills that you can use from your A&E post, or you might come across some teenagers when you're doing your A&E post, or people who have transitioned from paediatric services to adult services with chronic diseases, where you can really do some useful thinking around child health. So don't worry about it if you don't get a placement.

What you might want to do, for instance, is undertake an audit that looks at the transition of young people from paediatric to adult services. Or you might want to look at the resources that are available for, say, young adults with mental health problems in your A&E. 

When you've done a project like that, you'll have learnt loads of useful stuff that you can then put into your application form, or talk about at your paediatric interview, if that's what you're planning to do. So it's about thinking laterally, and looking for other opportunities to be exposed to some paediatrics. 

A lot of people will do some primary care, or psychiatry placements. A lot of these placements will give you opportunities to get some child health exposure. 

At the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, we are well aware of the limited exposure that people have. So when we set up recruitment into our specialty, we are absolutely clear that it's not a requirement that you need to have done any paediatrics, and the questions that we ask at interview are not based on an assumption that you've done paediatrics.

 They are very generic questions. So don't worry. If you're keen to pursue a career in paediatrics, we'll be interested in you, and there will be no way of limiting your opportunity to get into the specialty.


 

What made you decide to run for College president?

It's an interesting journey to put yourself forward for president of a royal college, and certainly standing - we have an election process, and so one has to write a manifesto and do a video manifesto. We have hustings. You're really pushed out of your comfort zone. 

In running for president, you really have to be clear that that's what you want to do, and why you want to do it. I was really driven by a desire to do some work that I believe is really important around supporting the workforce within paediatrics. Paediatrics is a middle-sized specialty. It's not an enormous specialty, like adult medicine and surgery, nor is it a small, niche specialty. 

We sit somewhere in the middle - a bit like obstetrics and gynaecology, and psychiatry. We're similar-sized specialties. In a way, that makes us quite vulnerable. We know that paediatrics is also quite a tough, front-facing, clinical-facing specialty, and most paediatricians will do that kind of clinical work all the way through to retirement. 

The world of work is hard these days, and so our workforce is really challenged. We're challenged to recruit enough people into paediatrics, and we're also challenged around retaining people. 

Those issues for the workforce really fascinate and interest me, and that's what drove me to stand for president. I really want to make a difference to the lived reality of paediatricians in the UK. I was a vice-president before I was president, and I'd started a piece of work that I feel really strongly about, which is around understanding our retention issues - what's the size of the problem. 

So how many paediatricians, across the whole career pathway - from the beginning of training through to retirement - leave prematurely. The bit that really interests me is the qualitative aspect. Why do people go? What makes a paediatric trainee drop out of training? What makes a 55-year-old paediatrician take early retirement? 

Let's try and understand these problems and then, as a college, what can we do to potentially intervene to support paediatricians at these different stages, where potentially they are feeling the most challenged? It was that that really drove me to stand for president, and I was very lucky and voted into the role. 

It's a massive privilege and, as president, the role is bigger than that. I'm committed to the workforce, and it's our number one, key issue at the moment, because if you don't have a workforce, you can't do any of the other work.

But, because we're the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, we also have this other, really important work around child health advocacy. So having come into the role, I am just as committed to the child health advocacy aspect of the job, which is around addressing health inequalities - really trying to understand why it is that some children do better than others. 

What is it about the way our services are set up, and society is constructed in this country, that constantly there are children in certain social demographics that just don't thrive? How, as a college, can we influence that? How can we influence policymakers? How can we influence people who hold the budgets to actually put their money in different places to really address some of these issues? 

We're the sixth richest country on the planet, and yet we have some really awful child health outcomes. Of course, if you have poor child health outcomes, then they become poor adult health outcomes. So this is vital work, but we need a healthy workforce to do the work. We have these really compelling challenges at the moment. Those are my challenges as president.


 

Are there any other pressing issues that paediatrics is facing as a specialty at the moment?

First, it’s important to recognise that paediatrics is not just about paediatricians - it's also about the wider workforce. So it's thinking about nurses, and allied health professionals, if we're thinking about the medical part of the child health workforce. 

All of us across the workforce in healthcare are facing significant challenges in terms of attracting people into the specialty and keeping doctors and nurses and allied health professionals in paediatrics. 

Through the incredible advancements in healthcare, we are now able to offer treatments and interventions that mean that children are surviving what were previously fatal diseases. Incredible medical advancements mean that babies born at 22 and 23 weeks' gestation are now surviving. Children with previous genetic conditions that were incompatible with life are surviving. 

But in surviving, they are presenting us with enormous challenges, both medically, but also more broadly, as we have to support them and their families to live with what may be very significant health issues, over what might be many years. That's put additional pressure on the system in a way that didn't exist even ten years ago.

We've got a lot of work to do, thinking about how we support children with life limiting and other conditions that mean their lives need a lot of additional healthcare support for them to live to their full potential. 

This has put a lot of pressure on the healthcare providers as well. A lot of these children will spend very protracted periods of time in hospital. It might be that conflict might arise between the doctors and nurses and the families. 

We've had some high-profile cases in the last few years that have come to public awareness. I'm thinking of children like Alfie Evans, and Charlie Gard. These are really challenging, and often extremely sad cases. 

Those two cases are the ‘tip of the iceberg’. All children's services have children with these really complex medical conditions, and they're often very sad, difficult situations. But there may be situations of conflict that arise between the families and the doctors and nurses, and this puts huge pressure on the workforce.

As a college, we're particularly challenged to think about: how can we support doctors and nurses and allied health professionals who are working with these families? How can we support the families as well? How can we improve communication and mediation between both sides? How can we avoid the really difficult cases that hit the headlines in the newspapers? 

That's not a good outcome for anybody when it's starting to become a big media frenzy. So I think we've got into challenging times. Medical advancement is incredible, but it's not always bringing the best outcome for families and for those of us who work in the area. 

So how do we navigate our way through what is a rapidly evolving but very complicated healthcare environment? I think that's a major challenge for us, going forward. It gives us huge opportunities because this is all about medical advancement, but it comes with a price, and we shouldn't be naïve to that. 

 

 

How much of your priorities when you applied to become president have you already achieved, and what is your plan for achieving the rest of them?

In terms of understanding the retention issues within paediatrics, and trying to think about how we can support the workforce better, what we've done is to launch a project at the royal college, which is around understanding retention within the paediatric career. 

We've got some charity funding that's allowing us to do some really quite rigorous work to understand it better. We've got some academics working with us, so that we're underpinning it with a really good, sound academic approach to this. 

Hopefully, we'll ultimately find ourselves being able to reach conclusions that we can validate, and then move to the next step, which is to design a series of interventions. 

We'll be testing these interventions to try and understand whether they work or not, because what we can't be doing is lots of things that we feel are nice to do, without being really conscious about not wanting to waste resources and people's time. We're constantly adding value. 

We're going to be trialling some particular ideas out, around helping paediatricians connect in communities, so that paediatricians at different phases of their career trajectory can actually connect with each other, share good practice, and understand where things are going well. 

What can we learn from good examples, and then how can we spread good practice more widely? What you'll often find is that they're common themes -  people's problems - and then you'll suddenly discover one particular group of paediatricians in one particular trust who have thought of something really interesting and innovative that is helping to address the problem. 

If we can just amplify that good practice and share it, then more people could benefit from it. The royal college is in a brilliant position for doing that kind of work. So it's around identifying where people have got good examples of practice, and then how can we share that more widely? 

Already, there's some great stuff happening around the country where people have really thought about how to support, for instance, new consultants in a much more robust kind of way. People have, for example, thought about senior paediatricians who perhaps don't want to do the hard, out-of-hours, on-call work, but we don't want to lose those senior paediatricians. 

What typically happens is, when paediatricians maybe get to their late 50s, they'll ask their trust: ‘Please could I come off the on-call rota because I just don't want to be up all night anymore. I'm not at my best in the middle of the night. I'm finding it exhausting. I’m really struggling to do my clinic the next day’. 

Sadly, there are too many examples where trusts have said: 'In that case, you're going to have to retire, because you either do that or we don't have a role for you anymore’. Then you come across fantastic paediatricians with brilliant teaching, leadership and clinical skills, who are retiring, and we just lose them. 

They don't particularly want to retire. They just don't want to do the night work anymore. We have to try and reverse some of that. So where trusts have come up with innovative rota design, for instance, which allows senior people to step away from the out-of-hours work, we want to share that good practice and help people start a conversation.

 ‘Could we think about doing that for our rota?’ ‘What did it cost you?’ ‘How did you make it happen?’ ‘How did you make sure your out-of-hours rota didn't collapse because your senior people were coming off it?’ All those kinds of questions. As a college, we could do that.

I'm really keen for us to really amplify good practice and share it. People on the ground understand their problems the best, and therefore will know their solutions. It's about listening and then sharing good practice. I'm really excited about that. I don't think it's going to happen overnight. We aren't going to fix these problems quickly. It's going to be slow, incremental steps, and we have to be patient as we do it. But I'm absolutely convinced we can make some important inroads into it.


 

To what extent are the problems within paediatrics, with regards to retention and disillusionment, transferable to other specialties? Might some of the work you do pave the way for other specialties to address problems?

I'm absolutely convinced that these problems are not unique to paediatrics. There will be some aspects of paediatrics that are unique to us, but actually, when I talk to my colleagues in other colleges and obviously specialties, and more broadly within, for instance, Health Education England, there are common themes. 

We've got an increasingly feminised workforce that's changing the dynamic. As a woman, I would say it's changing the dynamic in a positive way, but it's changing. Women have different career needs, and women who wish to have families are going to want to pace their careers in a different kind of way to the way men traditionally did, although increasingly, men are wanting to think differently about their careers. 

There are societal changes in attitudes to work, and work life, and the balance you strike between work and the rest of your life. There are some generational or societal changes as well, and this is a broader issue. 

When you look at the calibre of high school young people who are applying to do medicine, we're still in this unbelievably luxurious position of being able to attract the brightest and the best. They still want to do medicine, which is fantastic, but we shouldn't rest on our laurels. 

There are so many other things for ambitious, bright young people to do that, actually, if we're not careful, in 10, 15, 20 years' time, we won't still be able to proudly say we can attract the best. We really do need to have a professional, hard conversation about: how are we going to make sure that medicine stays as a top choice for really brilliant, all-round young people to consider as a career prospect? 

I'm hoping that the work we do in our retention project at RCPCH will have some generalisable lessons that we can share more broadly. Certainly, every time I've mentioned it to, for instance, colleagues at the BMA or Health Education England, or any other specialties, there has definitely been interest. 

We will share anything that we learn that is useful for other people. It's going to be interesting. We should watch this space. 

Another thing about paediatrics is, we are not upset about all the paediatric trainees we lose. We actually want some paediatric trainees to go off and do general practice, radiology, dermatology, genetics or whatever, because we want our GPs, psychiatrists, dermatologists, geneticists to have a really good foundation in child health. Some of our retention problems are not problems at all. 

We just need to get the workforce modelling right, so that we recruit too many people into paediatrics, acknowledging that maybe 10% will leave. (I don't actually know how many people leave, and that's part of the work we're doing.) 

I don't think we truly understand how many people leave paediatric training programmes to go off and do other careers. Some of that is really good stuff, and we want to encourage that. There are going to be all sorts of fascinating spin-offs from this retention work.


 

In your role as president, what insights and reflections have you had about leadership so far?

It's been fantastic, but a very steep learning curve. As with any new job, you spend quite a lot of time trying to understand all the aspects of the role that perhaps one wasn't aware of before. I'm extremely well supported here at the royal college, and more broadly. 

There's a fantastic group of presidents across all the royal colleges, and they're really supportive as well. We meet up regularly. What I've realised, again, is how important it is to find support, to find the critical friends who are there to be able to bounce ideas with, to say: 'Actually, I'm not quite sure what to do about this, what do you think?' People you trust. So that's the first really important leadership lesson that I'm continuing to learn. 

The second thing I've learned is a more personal one, which is you have to be true to yourself. There isn't a formula for being a leader. You are your own person. It's about saying: ‘I'm going to be true to myself and learn to trust my instincts’, because actually, particularly when you get into these senior leadership roles, there isn't a book that you can read that's going to tell you what to do. 

There probably isn't a single person you can go to who is necessarily going to be able to say, 'Do this, do that’. You've got to work it out for yourself. A lot of that is about self-discovery and about building your own self-confidence. It's about being happy to fail, and recognising that, actually, we're all learning. 

One of the most powerful things I read recently was around equality, diversity and inclusion, which is one of my huge interests and massive commitments as college president. I was listening to a podcast, and the key message was the importance of having a learner's mindset if you're a leader trying to push for better inclusion. 

If you explicitly have a learner's mindset, then learners are allowed to make mistakes because you're learning. I find that a liberating way of thinking about leadership. It's about saying: 'I'm on a learning journey and I won't get it right all the time’. 

I think most of us recognise that often it's through your mistakes that you learn your most valuable lessons. The college staff are fantastic and incredibly supportive. The presidents of all the other royal colleges are incredibly supportive. 

So I've got to this point where I feel safe now to make mistakes. That ability to make a mistake and learn from it has been a really important leadership lesson.


 

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self?

I would have been a bit kinder to myself, and allowed myself not to be quite so self-critical. All of us strive to improve ourselves, to push ourselves out of our comfort zone, to learn and grow, and in many ways, that's the recipe for being successful. 

For me, I can get into a personal narrative, which is quite self-critical, and I'm not sure that's helpful. So I would tell myself to be slightly less hard on myself. It's important to learn from mistakes, and to recognise when you've made a mistake. But it's also important not to get into that rather destructive internal dialogue, which is around focusing on one's shortcomings. 

I don't particularly like arrogant people, and so I have real antibodies to arrogance. But the flip side cannot be desperately helpful either. Constantly reflecting on your mistakes is also not great. So I would say to myself to lighten up a bit, and don't be quite so hard on yourself.


 

What are some of your proudest achievements?

My proudest achievements are my two daughters. One is 21 and one is 19. My eldest has just graduated from university and is going to be a teacher, and then my younger daughter is a second-year student at Leeds. 

I say they are my proudest achievements because, actually, they are quite unlike me. Neither of them have ever had a desire to do medicine, but both of them are emotionally intelligent, gutsy girls, and as a woman, I'm just really proud that they're going to make their ways in life as women, forging their own paths. I can't think of anything that could make me prouder. 

Beyond my family, the other things that I'm proud of are the personal relationships I've got with colleagues. I'm surrounded by totally inspirational junior doctors, colleagues, my contemporaries, but particularly people who are younger than me, who inspire me constantly and challenge me. I can think of so many examples of brilliant young paediatricians who will drop me an email, text, or call me and say: ‘What about this, what about that, have you thought about that?' who are so supportive and kind. 

Kind in an intelligent kindness sense of the word kind. I'm so proud of those relationships. That's the reason I get out of bed in the morning, because it's people like that who inspire me to want to keep going and try harder. That investment in personal relationships is the most important part of my work and the part that I'm proudest of.


 

Have you had any major setbacks during your career, and if so, how did you overcome them?

My journey leading up to paediatrics was quite a tough one. I was a South African graduate that came to this country. It was in the time of apartheid. I came here as a white South African. I was working in hospitals where people were pretty critical - not surprisingly - of white South Africans, given what was going on in South Africa at the time.

It was a tough time to be here as someone from South Africa, and I often felt unfairly criticised because, actually, I feel so strongly about equality and treating people fairly, and I felt prejudged by my accent and my background. That was really quite hard.

I also really struggled with adult medicine. It wasn't what I thought it was going to be. Adult medicine in the UK was very different to South Africa, which generally was dealing much more with younger adults and much more infectious diseases, and less of the noncommunicable diseases that we were seeing in this country. So I was struggling with my specialty choice, and I was struggling to be a white South African junior doctor in this country. It was hard. 

Then I sat the first part of the MRCP and failed it. It was the first exam I'd ever failed, and that's a very bitter blow. Most of us who go into medicine are used to believing that the harder you work, the more likely you are to do well. 

Well, I'd worked very hard for this MRCP paper, and failed, and it was a really hard lesson in life. I thought seriously about giving up medicine. And it was then that I stumbled into paediatrics. Actually, not for particularly good reasons. It was just because I thought: ‘I've never done child health, maybe it will be something I want to do’.  

But I didn't really think it through very carefully. It was a really tough phase of life. But then I did get into paediatrics, and I did love it, and moved on from there and didn't look back. When I look back, it was an important phase, but it wasn't great at the time. It's allowed me to be able to talk to people who are struggling with a level of empathy, which I do find valuable. 

So when people are struggling to pass exams, or because they're homesick, and they've come from abroad and they don't feel they fit in  - which has been a particular issue over the pandemic with people far away from home, not being able to fly back to visit families - I'm in the ‘same boat’. My family are all still in South Africa and I haven't seen any of them for nearly two years. 

Sometimes these hard experiences give you a level of empathy to connect with others, which is very valuable, but one is only able to see that in hindsight. I'm not pretending it makes it any easier at the time, but that was a difficult time for me.


 

What is your favourite book?

My favourite book is To Kill a Mockingbird. I read it first when I was a teenager. I was at high school in South Africa, and was fortunate enough to go to a very liberal South African high school where the teachers taught us beyond the curriculum. 

You can imagine what the curriculum was like in those days, as a white child, going to a white school in South Africa. But our teachers were quite brave, and once we'd done the curriculum, we would launch into topics beyond it, and that was incredibly eye-opening. 

I remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and it was the first time I really had my eyes opened up to the challenges of racism. It's just so beautifully written and the perspectives are just incredible. I've read it many times, and it's a book that I keep coming back to. 

I know now, in many ways, it seems quite dated, because it's an America that is definitely in the past - although sadly, so much is still the same. Actually, so many of those themes are the same in this country, and certainly in South Africa. So To Kill a Mockingbird is a book that I will cherish forever, and it will always teach you lessons that I think are really important to learn, and to be kept aware of.


 

Medspire podcasts are produced by Dr Sanketh Rampes and Dr Anvarjon Mukhammadaminov, both full-time junior doctors. They aim to inspire the next generation of doctors and scientists by exploring the career journeys of leading clinicians and researchers.