Dr Abigail Jamieson: "I've never questioned why I'm doing this"

Dr Abigail Jamieson is among Brighton and Sussex Medical School’s newly qualified medics about to join the NHS during the Covid-19 pandemic. Read about her experiences below.

Portrait photo of Abigail Jamieson, newly qualified nurse

For every cohort of new doctors there will be something that defines their career, something that happened that they were part of. It does seem a bit strange that this pandemic will be the defining moment of my cohort, and it’s happening on my first day as a qualified doctor – I don’t think anyone can really prepare you for that.

Because of the media coverage about the lack of PPE [personal, protective equipment], there is a fear that we are putting ourselves at risk. But we have been promised that if we join the NHS workforce early, we will only be sent to work in areas in which we are competent, we will always be working alongside a more senior doctor to whom we can escalate any concerns, and that we will have adequate PPE. So they are trying to relieve our fears before we get to that point. 

We haven’t yet been told where or which hospital we’ll be at, but I would imagine that it won’t be A&E [Accident and Emergency] or ICU [Intensive Care Unit], simply because the patients are so sick that they need the more senior doctors. The idea is that they bring us in to relieve some of the senior doctors, who can look after the really sick patients while we take over the more day-to-day tasks – cannulation, taking bloods – and that will be more in the general wards.

I haven’t spoken to doctors on the frontline, but I imagine it must be really difficult. The death figures are astronomical and very different to the types of deaths that I have seen in my training, whether they have been cancer patients or the very elderly who have come to a natural end to their lives. If it’s a young patient, or a member of your team, that must be incredibly difficult. There’s nothing natural about that. 

The arguments around whether the government acted quickly enough are not helpful. Hindsight is a marvellous thing. If they had known what was going to happen maybe they would have taken different steps. But the level of stress our country’s leadership must be under is unprecedented. Although mistakes must be recognised and teams be held accountable, we just need to stand together at times like this, not point fingers. It doesn’t help patient care.

It does seem a bit strange that this pandemic will be the defining moment of my cohort, and it’s happening on my first day as a qualified doctor” Dr Abigail Jamieson

Although I know this will be challenging, I’ve never questioned ‘why’ I’m doing this. I didn’t expect to be starting my career in the middle of a pandemic, but I have spent five years and thousands of pounds to get to this point. I had to work so hard, particularly through secondary school. I went to a school that wasn’t as encouraging as some others; I was told to have more realistic career expectations as a female!

I have to work incredibly hard to get the same grades as my peers. There’s a difference between being academic and being driven. Physics and chemistry did not come naturally to me. But what I did have, which some of my classmates didn’t, was a long-term goal; not passing chemistry and physics wasn’t an option. You simply have to get the grades to get into medical school. Because medicine is my passion, revising for medical school exams wasn’t as hard as revising for physics A-level.

In my training there have been moments that have been difficult to deal with. I was involved in a case in which two patients died. I put an expectation on myself that I would be able to go away and get up the next day as though nothing had happened, because that’s what you expect to see as a doctor. But as humans we’re not built to be able to withstand that repeatedly. I spoke to some of the A&E consultants and they said, “You’re not meant to be okay with this, you’re meant to feel a loss”. You shouldn’t become emotionally blunted, because at that point you stop caring.

I originally thought I wanted to work in paediatric oncology, but the last five years I’ve realised I need to be more of a generalist. I don’t have the attention span to spend the next 40 or 50  years of my life looking after patients with only one or two conditions. I love the energy that the acute medicine has, so I think I want to go into A&E, where I can work with both children and adults. 

Medicine is different to when I first started medical school. There’s so much new knowledge coming out all the time; it’s an exciting industry to be part of. I also wanted to be in a profession where I am surrounded by patients and conversation and continuously being challenged and forced to stretch myself. 

I have never come close to throwing in the towel. I’m excited to be starting out in the career that I have wanted to do for a long time. I’m not squeamish, although I can’t deal with snot very well. I’m not sure why that is. We all have snot!

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