Brutally honest patients, play and hugging Peppa Pig: why paeds was the job for me

Ben Carter, a trainee paediatrician (ST3 level), tells us why he joined paediatrics...

What are the best things about your job?

Quite simply, the kids. Nowhere else (apart from a little bit of A&E) will your patients be so unabashedly themselves. They’ll be honest (sometimes brutally so), they’ll tell you when they love you, hate you and usually exactly what they want – even if it is some sweeties. Kids just have they own wavelength that it is a joy to be part of.

I’m a bit of a joker and have always enjoyed injecting a bit of fun at work, and paediatrics is the perfect place for that. I’ve had races down corridors, shown a 5 year old my ‘blood taking ninja’ skills, had a heated debate over whether Thor or the Hulk is better and provoked a lot of jealousy by showing a patient a photo of the time I hugged Peppa Pig.

Kids can be difficult at first, but if you put in a little effort, they are the most rewarding patients.

The other thing that immediately struck me about paediatrics is the differences that even the most junior trainee can make. A well placed smile, a bit of play, some random knowledge about cartoons, or just a hand to hold can play the biggest parts in enriching a child’s or parent’s hospital experience. I received a lovely thank you card in my first week as a paediatric FY2, simply for smiling and entertaining a two year old with a rabbit puppet whilst she had bloods taken. The best experiences I have had as a team member and best feelings of being valued have come from the amazing teams of doctors nurses and ward staff I have had the honour being part of.

How did you choose paediatrics?

Throughout my initial postgraduate training I was utterly convinced I wanted to apply for ACCS (acute care common stem)  training to become an Emergency Medicine trainee. I was very fortunate in my foundation years to get an excellent mix of speciality jobs to supplement my emergency experience – this is where my first foray into paediatrics came from.

I first experienced paediatrics as an FY2 (foundation year 2), and immediately I was struck by how unique, varied and enjoyable specialty it is.

How has the first part of your paediatric training been?

The great thing in paediatrics is that the junior training jobs give you a good cross section of what is on offer and every region has some tertiary services. I have always found consultants both keen to teach about their sub-specialities and also to facilitate experience in higher level specialist centres as part of training. If you have the volition and the enthusiasm, paediatrics can be a very flexible training scheme in which you can see and do a lot.

Additionally, there is a lot of effort going in to getting trainees involved with deanery work and feedback, which are great opportunities to network and to help influence the ‘nuts and bolts’ of training to improve the experience for everyone.

What are the biggest challenges of being a junior paediatric trainee?

One of the biggest challenges is probably the learning curve. Paediatrics is often thought of as a niche speciality but it is a whole world of medicine and surgery that is immensely varied across the age range. While this is a challenge, I have always found it exciting, the innovations fascinating and the level of senior support and guidance absolutely exemplary.

People often worry they’ll have to go it alone with a sick child, but I have never felt in out of my depth.

There is no glossing over the obvious challenge in paediatrics: severe illness and death. It is heartbreaking to see the pain that families go through when their children are very unwell. I’ve cried at times for patients and my consultants have always been amazingly supportive.

This has led me to the realisation that while seeing this kind of illness is hard, by being a paediatric trainee – even at the most junior level – you get to play a part in making the worst possible pain a family can go through just a little bit better, and that to me is one of the most rewarding things, despite its challenges.

What advice would you offer to those applying to paediatrics?

Try and get a little bit of exposure first – even a taster week. There is an art to dealing with children and their parents and doing some paediatrics is the best way of finding out whether it is for you. For me, having an ‘F3’ experience in a paediatric job allowed me to really appraise whether the job was right for me.

Without being too gloomy, it should definitely be mentioned that paediatrics as a speciality is going through a challenging time at the moment. Training is long, and it is one of the more short-staffed specialities. I love paediatrics, but it can be a real pig on some days. It isn’t a speciality that should be gone into half heartedly: it is rewarding, but not easy.

However, if you’re enthusiastic and can appreciate the simply joys of making a child and a parent smile, of being there to help a new baby into the world before introducing them to their parents, of getting a hug from a grateful relative then the difficulties pale in comparison.

I simply cannot see myself as any other kind of trainee, and I have never regretted my decision – even in the darker times.