The experiences that have shaped me as a junior doctor

In spring 2017, Sara O'Rourke was a medical student working at the Children's Hospital in Manchester. Then came the suicide bombing on the Manchester Arena. She wrote about the experience and the 'powerful cohesion' she found among the health professionals attending to patients. Here she reflects on winning the College's Tony Jackson prize for her essay.

Working as a medical student during the bombings of May 2017 exposed me to numerous important and unique experiences. The lessons I learned coloured my feelings and naivety towards working as a doctor, yet they also reassured me of the powerful cohesion of society. I felt that the great work and the individuals needed capturing in writing - and this was what brought me to apply for the Tony Jackson prize.

A feeling we have all had... of pride in the NHS and its amazing services

I was thrilled to be invited to present my reflections in Glasgow at the RCPCH Conference in March 2018. In the audience were doctors directly or indirectly involved in the management of the previous year's attacks, and I hoped my words would honour them in some way. For the many students attending, I hoped my experiences would give courage for the difficult parts of working as a doctor. And overall, I hoped my presentation would reinvigorate that feeling that we have all had - as faded as it can become - of pride in the NHS and its amazing services.

To have been awarded the Tony Jackson prize was quite a surreal moment of mixed emotions. Most of all, I was grateful that the audience and judging panel had heard the story and taken it in as much as they had. I felt as though the presentation had made an impact; this was what I had set out to achieve.

I am frequently reminded of the experiences that have shaped the junior doctor I am today. After the Glasgow conference, I was keen to expand my experience of trauma. I chose to work at Necker Children’s Hospital in Paris in the department of Plastic Reconstructive and Maxillo-Facial Surgery. This was another great experience which exposed me to a different way of doing things, new skills and new people. Now back on home turf, I am working in paediatric surgery.

There is energy in the teamwork that is so markedly endemic to paediatric services

While I do see myself as more of a surgeon than a medical doctor, there is no doubt that I would very much like to work in paediatric services. I imagine that wherever one may go and work, they will see there is that energy in the teamwork that is so markedly endemic to paediatric services. What I enjoy is that the paediatric patient brings people together in a very unique and positive way, just as was the case in Manchester.

To work in paediatrics, in whatever capacity or speciality, is sure to be an adventure that has important challenges and is good for the soul.


Applications for the Tony Jackson opened on 23 November - find out more and apply. You may also like to read stories by other doctors who work in paediatrics.