Trainees maintaining a healthy work-life balance

01 Mar 2019

By Matthew Brown

The life of a surgical trainee has changed dramatically over the past decade. Despite the reduction in training hours associated with the European Working Time Directive implemented for junior doctors in 2004, the average working week has been capped at 48 hours. Notwithstanding the effects of the new contract for trainees in England, we are afforded time to spend with our families, friends and pursuing extra-curricular activities. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is important and many trainees participate in a diverse range of interests outside of the working day, covering everything from CrossFit®, cycling and yoga to painting, philanthropy, music, dancing and bee keeping! BOTA approached trainees via social media and our Regional Representative network to identify the diverse ways in which many of us choose to spend our free time.

Rowing appears to be a popular pastime. In July 2018, Alex Woods (Thames Valley ST4) took part in the gruelling RowZambezi expedition, which brought together rowers from six nations and raised a total of £50,000 for local charitable causes. In addition to providing volunteer medical support and completing local fresh water research, Alex rowed 900km over 14 gruelling days along the Kafue River (a tributary of the Zambezi) and navigated rapids whilst avoiding hippos and crocodiles. Alex previously competed for Oxford University in the infamous 2012 Boat Race. He continues to row in the mornings before work and is often joined by his partner, Zoe, in their double boat. He plans to return in 2021 and follow the Zambezi down through Mozambique.

Continuing the charitable theme, Michael Rafferty (NW Thames ST7) is passionate about third world medicine and is a trustee of the Better Lives Foundation, which built, and now maintains, a hospital in Sierra Leone through charitable donations. Michael has made frequent visits over the last five years, leading educational courses, sourcing volunteers and supporting the scholarship programme, which has put over 30 local students through nursing, midwifery and medical studies.

Justin Wei Leong (Mersey ST8) participated in the Trans-Cumbria Challenge organised by Mr. Wynn-Jones and involving 18 other participants. The challenge started from Whitehaven and ended at Pooley Bridge. This included two legs of Trans-Cumbria Cycling from Whitehaven to Honister Slate mine and Honister to Hellvellyn with an up-to 19% gradient climb up the Honister pass, as well as extreme climbing with Via Ferrata Xtreme, hiking up Hellvellyn through Striding Edge and Canoeing across Ullswater. The team managed to raise £8400 to support The Implants for Malawi project. 

Looking for an interest outside of work?

Lauren Thomson (East Midlands South ST5) took up Gaelic football after previously playing rugby. Her partner had played and she thought “How difficult could it be?”. In 2018, Lauren’s team (Roger Casements) passed through the British league undefeated, won the European Championships and qualified for the All Ireland quarter finals (losing to the eventual winners)! Gaelic football has helped Lauren manage her workload and provides both mental and physical benefits.

Sarah Bolton (Stanmore ST5) balances her career with her love of exercise and finds the time most days to cycle or swim at the London Fields lido in Hackney. In 2017, she completed an Ironman triathlon and came second in a middle-distance triathlon.

The Wessex rotation is particularly adept at perfecting the balance between work and play.

Jo McEwan (ST5) has always found sport to be her method of choice to unwind from work. She took up CrossFit® and weight lifting when she started her out-of-programme PhD and quickly achieved success, reaching second place at the European CrossFit® championships. This year she has continued to go from strength to strength (pun intended) and has qualified for the national championships in weightlifting.

Future orthopaedic trainees also look set to pursue a healthy work-life balance. Michael Foxall-Smith (Peninsula FY2) has always been a keen athlete and started playing American football as a student. He continues this passion and commutes 150 miles, twice weekly to Torbay, to train with his team, the Torbay Trojans.  Training and competing is one of the highlights of Michael’s week and has helped him focus on his goals, including his future surgical career.

Having a creative outlet through music and art is also represented among trainees. Having completed a Diploma in Musical Theatre whilst at school, Morgan Bailey (Wessex ST6) sings with Southern Voices, a chamber choir based in Winchester. She combined her musical and orthopaedic interests performing a jazz set at the 2017 British Limb Reconstruction meeting! When work or exams do not permit choir practice, Morgan has a ukulele at home, which helps her relax after work.

In 2018, Alastair Faulkner (East of Scotland ST4) appeared as a contestant on the programme Sky Arts’ Portrait Artist of the Year. Alastair painted broadcaster and comedian Meera Syal, and this experience made him consider himself an artist as well as a surgeon. Alastair is also a violinist and percussionist for the Dundee Symphony Orchestra – an amateur orchestra that recently played with renowned violinist Nicola Benedetti CBE. Balancing these interests with a career in surgery can prove challenging, although his orchestra is very understanding if on-calls prevent attendance at rehearsals. Alastair feels these creative activities complement and enhance his surgical skills.

Alexandra Aframian (ST5) practices yoga to enhance her physical and cognitive strength and flexibility as well as utilising yogic methods of breath control and mindfulness to relax after work. Last summer, Alexandra completed her yoga teaching qualification in Cambodia and she combines her knowledge of yoga with her understanding of human anatomy and biomechanics when teaching and practicing yoga.

Sabina Barbur (ST6) can be found on her days off designing and marketing honey-based edible and cosmetic products, as part of a company she founded with her husband in 2013.  Sabina’s NHS colleagues provide a limitless supply of dry hands and chocolate cravings, enabling her to trial her products!  Through fulfilling her business interests, Sabina has been able to strike the right balance between her career and family life.

Chris Jordon (Wessex ST8) used his first degree in engineering to assist in the design of his own meat smoker, which he constructed from scratch in the comfort of his own home. Hampshire is known for its trout fishing and Chris is never short of fish (or meat) to smoke, even treating his fellow trainees during the odd FRCS teaching session! Fuelling minds with smoked bacon sandwiches since 2015!

We all enjoy our family and leisure time when not at work. Although we may not be winning medals, raising money or running a business, we recognise the importance of balancing the demands of a surgical career with our personal lives. Raising a family or caring for a loved one are achievements that should be celebrated equally. Although our working patterns are not perfect, we all find time to dedicate ourselves to the people and activities that matter to us.

Trainee careers