Taking a History with the Medical Demonstrators

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Alisa and Kathryn are second year medical students, here to shed some light on our very own demonstrators

For years the demonstrators of the medical school have graced our presence undervalued. It is time now to glorify their names and take a peek into their intimate lives. In this article, we will be diving into an invigorating conversation with our very own Dr. James Bowness (University of St. Andrews), Dr. Peter Kilgour (University of London, UCL) and Dr. Oliver Tavabie (University of Southampton).

What does it mean to work as a demonstrator and how does the process work?

J: Yeah absolutely; we’ve taken a year out of clinical practice to do this. So there’s no opportunity to manage this job and work at a hospital at the same time.

O: You don’t have to be a demonstrator. We [points at Peter] didn’t know what we wanted to do. James, on the other hand, changed his mind.

J: Yeah, so I’m a bit, not very much though, older than these guys. I started my surgical training but changed my mind. And how it works is you can only apply once a year to specialty training. So I have to go back to the start now, and leave my surgical training to apply for my new general anaesthetics training.

Just a general question to begin: why medicine and what intrigues you it?

O: God…

J: So for me it was more because it just kind of fit when I was at school since I quite liked the sciences. You’re all meant to say, “I want to help people etc” – I really don’t care. I guess for the interview I should say, “I love people!” but I don’t…so. [Laughs]

P: No, no, it’s kind of true actually! I mean, I chose medicine because I was good at science in school. I have a mum who is a doctor and so it was what I grew up around. It kind of seemed like the natural fit for me to go into medicine. To be honest, did I give too much thought into how I wanted to help people? Probably when I was choosing medicine, not that much. Gave it a bit more thought about a week before my medical school interview [chuckles] but I think the thing is, I’ve come to love it more and more as I’ve gone on. When I started, did I honestly know as a 17 year old, whether or not I wanted to be a doctor? Maybe not. But by the end of my medical degree and since I’ve started working, it’s absolutely what I want to do. I wouldn’t chose anything else …except maybe a footballer…or a fighter pilot! Or astronaut! Hang on there’s loads more! [All laugh]

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What is your most embarrassing moment as a medical student?

O: Mine is…this is probably going to be awful…[laughs]

P: Steady…

O: Ok, so I ran the University of Southampton medical school rugby club and every year, especially as the head, I was invited to a dinner. All the rugby boys, the chairman…all the consultants and professors came. This is the problem though; they give you like 7 pints of beer beforehand, then expect you to behave like gentlemen throughout the dinner. And myself and one of the consultant orthopaedic surgeons had a bit of a disagreement leading to my eventual retaliation. I think it was about subs and he hadn’t paid his subs. So he made a snide comment about where his money went and just went by and licked his face…which then escalated in him pushing me, which ended up with my friend putting him in a head-lock and it turning into a massive bundle of two professors having to, eventually, take out the consultant orthopaedic surgeon. He was then sent home with a note to ‘behave himself ’ and we were all told to carry on. So yeah, that was probably my most embarrassing moment.

P: I feel like I should tell a story that’s not about drinking! There seems to be a common theme here…well you can make up your mind as to whether alcohol was involved here. Probably one of the most embarrassing things was, me and my friends use to live down in a big house in Camden, London. One of the girls that I’ve been friends with for a long time was from Essex. So she had lots o  different outfits and high heels, very young Essex girl sort of thing. We were having a dinner party, and at about 11 in the evening disappeared from the table. Seems like I may have disappeared and gone to play dress-up in my friend’s closet and then reappeared in quite an odd choice of outfit. She’s a lot slimmer than I am and they didn’t really fit. And yeah…I was doing an impression of her as an Essex girl and that was all quite funny and nice…until the next day when I realized that somebody had a video of it! So yeah, that video kind of appears every now and then with my friends. Yeah, it’s an interesting one but you’ll never be allowed to see that. Or any other videos for that matter!

So now we have a few questions specific to one of you; make note that we have researched for these beforehand. First for Dr. Bowness – we have heard through the grapevine that you took a year off working as a demonstrator in St. Andrews. If you don’t mind telling us what you did during that year and what made you come back?

J: So that’s when I started my surgical training; so I spent a year in Liverpool. I used to do a lot of on calls in surgery and  A&E. Witnessing a lot of surgeons and orthopaedics, fighting with A&E…telling them that they were relatively incompetent doctors and they were the rejects from all the other fields. Remember that line, Peter?

P: Sounds about right!

J: That’s not a serious generalisation, just something for Peter. [laughs] So yeah, I spent a year there, and there were good parts of all that but I decided that it just wasn’t for me. When you’re looking after a patient, I like to do a proper job of it and see them from start to finish. So as an anesthetist, although you don’t treat the patient for the whole duration of their stay…

O: Or talk to them! [all laugh]

J: Well actually it’s more important than you think. A matter of fact, I found it one of the most important consultations I’ve ever had because you’ll never find a patient more scared then when you’re about to put them to sleep and they’re worried they’ll never wake up. So I thought, well, when you’re an anesthetist you deal with one patient at a time, if there are any problems with that patient, you can look after them and give them your undivided attention. So I left surgery and came back this year!

Dr. Tevabie, many students have complimented you on the fact that you have a tasteful sense of style in your wide selection of coloured trousers. Would you say this is your signature?

O: Uh no, absolutely not. I would say I don’t like black trousers but I wouldn’t say it’s my signature. That would be my fantastic personality and great teaching!

Where do you get your inspiration for the style?

O: TK Maxx. [All laugh]

Last but not least a question for Dr. Kilgour – we understand that this is your first year at St. Andrews. How do you enjoy the nightlife here?

[All laugh]

J: I’m curious as to the background behind this question!

P: Yeah! I live with Ollie so we do tend to go out during the weekend and yes – we’ve come across people at the Lizard and at the Vic before. Compared to London, it’s a bit limited [laughs]. We tend to be going to the same places over and over again, whereas you can’t really do that when  you’re out in London. But then again, to be fair, even when you’re in London you kind of just go back to your favourite place. So yeah, it’s been good.

Perfect. So just to conclude, any pieces of advice for the students? Career related or just motivational tips?

J: I think one thing I would say is that people often fall under the impression that they should be like the people around them and compare how smart they are and how well they’re doing. And this leads to worrying about not getting a good degree or worry about what prizes you’ll get in your clinical years. And so, I think you need to concentrate on the task ahead of you. You’re going to succeed in whatever path you chose so don’t worry about the other things and focus on doing well at whatever you chose to do at the moment and certainly to enjoy what you’re doing.

O: I’d say get involved with everything. I was on the Med Soc and various different charities. I was on rugby teams, squash teams, hockey teams and I had a great time. Had to work hard to make up for it but we were always told, “Be a ‘C’ student, get by and just enjoy yourself ” because you won’t have another time like this unless you come back to university and demonstrate. Moving onto career choices: if you’re practical, think about surgery; if you like thinking, do medicine; if you can’t do any of those, do A&E! [All laugh.]

P: I think that a work-life balance is very important. And like Ollie said, make sure you have hobbies and can enjoy these hobbies alongside your work. Mostly to make sure you enjoy yourself outside medicine as well because it will make you a better doctor in the end. If you can relate better to people by being a well-rounded person and having a good work life balance it will not only make you a better doctor but a better communicator. So I think it’s a good idea to have a good time and get involved in as many different activities as you can and work hard at school.


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