One journey ends, the next begins

If you really want something, and really work hard, and take advantage of opportunities, and never give up, you will find a way. Follow your Dreams.

I find this to be quite a fitting quote for anyone and it’s particularly relevant for me – it was said by the great zoologist Jane Goodall, and it is with zoology that my journey into medicine began. For most of my childhood I dreamt of becoming a zoologist – I loved wildlife and the natural world, and I thought it would make for a great job.

However, as I got older and university loomed on the horizon, my passions increasingly became focussed on human beings. I love hearing people’s stories, being able to help others, and meeting new faces from all over the world. Combined with my aptitude for science, and my strong conviction that I didn’t want to work in anything like the financial sector or for a big corporation, this passion for helping people led me to medicine. So, I dropped the zoology dream – I think that working on the ward and looking after people will beat documenting midge numbers in the highlands, don’t you? Fewer bites, I’m certain.

My name is Giancarlo Bell and I am about to enter my FY1 year at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. I can’t wait.

I come from a single-parent, working class family. As such, studying for six years has been quite a large financial burden and my family hasn’t always had the means to help keep me afloat. This sort of issue is a huge barrier to working class would-be-doctors up and down the country. I was lucky enough to qualify for extra funding from SAAS, as well as a talent scholarship at university. Furthermore, I have kept up part-time work for the duration of my degree, first at a high street shop and, latterly, at a community pharmacy as a dispensing assistant. This has all allowed me to become self-sufficient – nevertheless, I’m looking forward to my first F1 paycheck, and I’m starting to dream of what it will be like to crawl out of my overdraft, and – more importantly – for when I can afford to treat my mum to dinner!

With FY1 just days away, I know I’ve got a long road ahead of me. I’ll be working in general medicine and general surgery for my first couple of years on rotation, however my goal is ultimately to train as a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists have the unique privilege of meeting many hundreds of fascinating people and being afforded an intimate glimpse into their lives. Mental health is so important, and when people have problems with their mental health, fixing these issues requires a long-term, multifactorial approach. As such, spending time going over things in detail with the patient is essential. This suits my personality and my approach to care well. Furthermore, so much of the philosophy and science of psychiatry is still somewhat unknown; it’s exciting to work in a field at the cutting edge, when we’re still writing the rule book.

Recent decades have been hugely transformative for the lives of people with mental health problems and we have to keep working with these patients, tweaking things under their guidance, until we get them right. I am extremely pleased, and honoured, to have been named as one of the Royal College of Psychiatry’s Foundation Fellows – a position that will entail me acting as an ambassador for psychiatry, receiving journal subscriptions and attending conferences for the duration of my foundation years. Hopefully this will be good preparation before I enter Core Psychiatry Training and will keep my interests on the go whilst I’m swamped with FY1.

If anyone is considering entering the world of medicine, the first piece of advice I would give them is make sure you know what you’re getting yourself in for! There are many fantastic things about studying and working in medicine, but even just to get yourself through medical school requires commitment and dedication – and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. There are many careers which can be kinder to you, and this won’t be an easy ride.

But, ultimately, on the flipside of this I would also emphasise that, despite what some people will say to scare people off from applying, you can have a life outside of medicine, should you choose this path! This has been a really important take-home message for me since I joined BMA Scotland – we may be workers in a stressful and difficult environment, but we’re still allowed to have fun, relax and pursue other interests. For me, I like to completely shut myself off from medicine when I can, and I find it relaxing to listen to stories, debates and lectures on topics completely separate from my job – particularly when I’m commuting.

And I should say, if you’re going to choose medicine as your career path, I cannot recommend working in Scotland enough. Obviously I have an element of bias, being Scottish myself, but this truly is a great place to train and build your career. Not only are our hospitals staffed with cracking people, our NHS is publicly funded and free at the point of use, and we are all rightfully proud of that. I would find it extremely difficult to practice in a climate that served corporate interest of patient wellbeing, or in which the standard of care somebody received was dictated by their income – it’s not right and it shouldn’t still happen.

Furthermore, even the great English NHS has seen the ongoing advance of privatisation and multinational companies swallowing up much of the workforce – while this problem exists to an extent in Scotland, it’s at nowhere near the same level and we’re in an excellent place to defend and maintain our NHS to meet the core values under which it was founded.

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