Painful truths through comedy - a dual career in paediatrics and playwriting

How can storytelling skills help in a clinical setting? Serena Haywood, a neurodevelopmental consultant in London, talks about how her two jobs complement each other, and the importance of resilience.

Straddling two worlds

Definitely choose paediatrics as a career. It tolerates me for a start, which says a whole lot!

I am a doctor-playwright and I straddle both worlds like a colossus. Okay, that’s a bit overstated... but I am trying to demonstrate with that - almost - quote from Julius Caesar that I think a dual career helps me hugely in each.

I can spot drama for the sake of it a mile away

I am a neurodevelopmental consultant specialising in ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and behavioural paediatrics. This means taking a complex life history of a child and reframing that into a narrative using my storytelling skills. I’m good at subtext (what is the parent actually trying to tell me), theme (I’ve seen behaviour like this in a child before and it doesn’t end well) and can spot drama for the sake of it a mile away. Equally I’m good at managing disasters in the theatre like running a resuscitation, ensuring medical facts are correct in plays (don’t you hate it when they are not?) and treating backstage illnesses, not a euphemism (always).

I also won a theatre pub quiz by knowing that nonketotic hyperglycinemia causes hiccoughing in utero (well, seizures but that’s splitting hairs).

Supporting ourselves - and each other

But more importantly, writing has helped with my resilience. My writing brand is ‘painful truths through comedy’ and although I don’t write ‘medical plays’ as there are others who do that so much better, I definitely process my work in that way.

I have depression which I manage with my long suffering therapist, and writing as part of this is incredibly helpful. I also hope that talking openly about my mental health journey will encourage doctors to seek support in whatever way they find most helpful. I am an educational supervisor and lecturer in the university. And, I work with the London Deanery with interviews and ARCP (annual review of competence progression), with the GMC (General Medical Council) as an occasional assessor and the BMA (British Medical Association) as a doctor supporter and advisor. I am now Guardian of Safe Working for my Trust, and so am absolutely invested in monitoring not only my life-work balance but that of those in training.

The safest way to choose a profession is looking at who your colleagues and patients are going to be

A really clear common feature for doctors at any stage who have struggled in any way is insight. Doctors often help others with self-knowledge and awareness, but not ourselves. I do resilience training and write a blog to support trainees with this. My colleagues also help me know if I’m going a bit quiet which is a sign of my struggling and I am incredibly grateful.

I think the safest way to choose a profession is looking at who your colleagues are going to be and who your patients are. My patients make me laugh and cry and break my heart every day. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Interested in exploring a paediatrics career? Take a look at our advice and articles, or read our guidance about applying for a specialty training level 1 post.