Author: Dr Jeremy Purdell-Lewis, Clinical Fellow, Royal London Paediatric Critical Care Unit
It is now five weeks until I will be touching down in the Philippines for the first of, what I hope will be, many missions with the Operation HOPE team. As a trainee anaesthetist, and new recruit to the project in the Tarlac province, I am filled with excited anticipation of what the coming weeks will bring. I understand the original anaesthetics founders, who were part of Operation HOPE and the PAGES mission, were dubbed “the A team” and it is an honour to be joining an amazing project. I first went into medical school in 2003 with the aim of becoming a psychiatrist, so this is a slight change of plan.
After 6 years of university education and two more years as a hospital junior doctor I was still looking for my future speciality. It was not for failure of enjoying my chosen profession; I just liked the jobs I had done and found that choosing just the one was a difficult decision. I enjoyed medicine, surgery and loved emergency medicine. Unfortunately for psychiatry, however, that was now off the menu as I at least knew that I wanted to be a hospital based doctor. It was during my academic research job in the LIGHT facility affiliated with Leeds University that I was first introduced to anaesthetics as a viable career path. The research involved analysing the role of pre-operative cardiopulmonary exercise testing on surgical patients. It was then that I decided on anaesthetics as a career. That is to say, with a final 1 year detour via high dependency unit medicine and a further 6 months in emergency medicine, which, again, I loved.
Another two years later and I had completed my basic level competencies for anaesthetics and my primary anaesthetic exams, both of which are by far my proudest academic achievements to date. I am also lucky to say that I love my job. So what about The Philippines and international medicine? At medical school I also completed a Bachelor of Science degree in International Health. This allowed me to bring together my interests in the wider world with my fledgling healthcare knowledge.
Early university summer holidays were spent in Tanzania where I forged a relationship with a school near Dodoma, the country’s capital, and my old school in the UK, Birkenhead Boys School. The project was about education for both Tanzanian and British children alike, helping people understand each other, and helping those the most, who have the least. More latterly I have worked as a doctor on international trips to Kilamanjaro and twice to the Honduran jungle. So, international health and equality has always been something that I have valued greatly.
Towards the end of my novice anaesthetics training, Dr Chris Barringer, a British anaesthetic consultant, asked me if I would be interested in going to the Philippines to work with The Face Charity as part of Operation HOPE. To me, it was an absolute ‘no-brainer’. It was a metaphorical ‘pat on the back’ that I would be good enough for the job, but also a brilliant opportunity to help those in need. It gives me great pleasure to be part of a team and to make a real and tangible difference to people less fortunate than ourselves.
In the UK we are extraordinary lucky to have a healthcare system which is free at the point of care and allows children and adults alike to access lifesaving and life changing intervention. In most countries around the world this is not necessarily the case and I see it as my responsibility as a doctor to give those normally unable to access that life changing care, the opportunity to do so.
With the Operation HOPE trip on the horizon and nearing the end of my novice training in anaesthetics, I decided that I wanted some further exposure in paediatric care. With this in mind I applied for a 6 month Paediatric Critical Care Unit job in London which is now coming to an end. This again has been a job that I have thoroughly enjoyed. It has been a steep learning curve and was initially quite daunting, but it has been an invaluable learning experience and I hope this paediatric exposure will stand me in good stead for both the trip to The Philippines as well as my future anaesthetic training.
After Operation HOPE, and before finally settling down to complete my intermediate and higher anaesthetic training in the UK, I have a great job for 6 months as an air adult retrieval registrar for MedSTAR in Adelaide, Australia. I have always wanted to be a flying doctor and am looking forward to this job which involves the assessment and stabilisation of acutely unwell adults as well as the transfer of critically ill adults to tertiary care.
So, with only five weeks to go I look forward to meeting the team in the Tarlac province and hopefully playing a part in changing the lives of children who otherwise may never have had the chance for surgery.