Want to be a Doctor?
Pictured above: Dr. Bernadette Young who managed to do a BA in Literary Studies whilst also earning her medical degree. “It was a great way to engage with the wider world, as my medical studies were very focused.”
Want to be a Doctor? Dr. Bernadette Young, originally from Melbourne, Australia, attended the University of Melbourne for her MD. She now works and lives with her family in the UK. We asked her about what inspired her to pursue a career in medicine, and who inspires her work.
What is your field of work/study?
I’m a medical doctor, training to be a specialist in the field of infections. Right now I’m doing an extended period of research as part of that, which will hopefully lead to a PhD.
What is your job like?
Hospital medicine is great – it’s a bit of everything. I work as part of a team, with consultants and more junior doctors, as well as specialist nurses, other healthcare workers, laboratory scientists and public health officials. There’s lots of detective work – to understand what’s going on with a patient and make a diagnosis you have to gather all the evidence. That includes talking to patients, examining them and doing the right tests. In the lab it’s more tests: when bugs grow we have to work out what they are and if they might be causing disease, as well as which antibiotics might work against them. Some bugs (like viruses) are hard to grow in the lab, so we look for different clues – like bits of the viral genome or evidence of the immune system reacting to the virus. We put it all together then work with our patients and colleagues to work out how to manage the problem. This means being creative about solving problems, and is the most rewarding part of my job.
It’s a busy job, and means working weekends and nights on call. Some days are rough, but I always feel that I’m doing something that matters, and working with a team can be the difference between a horrible shift and a great one.
When did you decide to pursue a career in medicine? What made you want to be a Doctor?
Quite late in high school I heard an Australian doctor – Sir Gus Nossal – speaking about eradicating polio and measles, just wiping out these diseases forever. Right then I decided I wanted to be part of doing that.
What were your favorite subjects in secondary school? What was your major at university?
I never fit the science/ arts divide very well. I loved English literature, drama and French as well as Maths and Physics. At university I did a combined degree, so as well as studying for my medical degree I did a BA in Literary Studies at the same time. It was a great way to engage with the wider world, as my medical studies were very focused.
Who are your personal heroes?
Alan Fenwick at Imperial, who runs Schistosomiasis Control Initiative. They are working to wipe out worms which affect hundreds of millions of people. With a tiny team they do amazing work to get treatment out there, and have treated over 100 million people!
And my dad. He was widowed very young when my mum died and he brought up five of us on his own. He always had encouragement for us, and worked all the time so we could pursue our dreams. I’ve just become a parent myself and I’m awestruck all over again by what he’s done for me.
Do you have any advice for young students who might want to be a Doctor?
I think I was intimidated and daunted by the difficulty of getting into medical school, but if that’s what you want, don’t be put off by that. Talk to medical students and doctors though, because it’s a long road. Find out what’s involved, but bear in mind you can be creative in how you shape your training.