Post-PhD career profile – Medical Resident at Dalhousie University

Post-PhD career profile – Medical Resident at Dalhousie University

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Sarah and our PhD supervisor Karl after her viva in February 2011

Sarah Al Youha, Medical Resident at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada

Sarah did her PhD in Medical Sciences at the University of Manchester. She managed to squeeze her thesis within 3 years and intercalated it with her medical degree. Even though Sarah did a PhD, she never intended on doing a postdoc. She is currently in the fourth year of her 5-year medical residency in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Dalhousie University in Halifax. She tells me that after completion of her residency program, she plans to do a one-year medical fellowship before she returns home in Kuwait, where she will practise as a consultant plastic surgeon.

When asked how her role as a resident compares to her PhD, she says, “It is less cerebral track than the PhD but more stressful and demanding on lifestyle.” Her typical week consists of 6:30am starts for 11-12 hours of work in the operating room, on minor procedures or in the clinic. She’s also on call once or twice a week from 6:30am until 5-6pm the following day and she’s on call at weekends about once or twice a month. And in any spare time she has left, she’s studying for or doing exams or admin work. Hopefully it won’t always be like this. “Once you finish residency, you do the Royal College exam and then you qualify and your lifestyle should significantly improve, with less on call requirements…plus you’ll get better pay!” For Sarah, the pros of working as a resident doctor right now is that she gets to work with people and make them better. “There’s an immediate gratification rather than delayed gratification of doing science.” I guess this is very true because when I see how she has attached someone’s severed hand back on the patient’s wrist after hours of surgery, it’s pretty satisfying (and gruesome) compared to when after hours of work you find that yet another qPCR needs repeating!

Sarah warns that anyone who is interested in a surgical or medical career should be certain that this is the trajectory they want their life to take. “It’s a lifestyle more than a career and it’s probably not for everyone, especially if you have a family. I barely get to see my 2-year old.” So for her position, would she recommend doing a PhD? “PhD research strongly recommended to gain entry into a competitive specialty (like plastics).” She says to publish and present during your PhD as much as possible as this will help in your application. And her advice for someone doing a PhD? “When the going gets tough, keep your eye on the big picture. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel!

This post is part of a mini series on post-PhD careers.

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