Reflections on my early experiences in paediatrics

Dr Jessica Laidlaw shares stories from her academic and early professional career—and what encouraged her to #ChoosePaediatrics.

I came to realise the impact of early years experiences on wellbeing while studying child development as part of my psychology degree—what happens to a child can affect their physical, emotional, and social wellbeing through adolescence and well into adulthood. I couldn’t imagine a more rewarding career than supporting children on their journey, and it was then that I committed to a career in paediatrics. 

I applied to graduate-entry medicine, and embarked on the daunting task of sourcing work experience in local hospitals. When I arrived on the paediatric ward, I was instantly struck by the warmth and support of the team. Nurses took me under their wing and doctors took time out to teach me. And in a short time, I gained insight into many interesting subspecialties and rare presentations.  

But a case that will always stand with me is, unfortunately, one that is all-too-common. An infant was admitted with delayed social development and faltering growth—failing to fix and follow, and rarely crying for food or attention. She had experienced significant emotional and physical neglect. And right away, I came to understand the unavoidable reality: managing cases like this is just part of the job.  

I was invited to a multi-disciplinary team (MDT) meeting, where the team discussed the ongoing care of this baby, including the possibility of foster care. The team worked as a unit, with each person contributing to the discussion and advocating for the patient. Managing heartbreaking cases may be challenging, but the interventions that follow can be life changing—even lifesaving. 

When I arrived on the paediatric ward, I was instantly struck by the warmth and support of the team. Nurses took me under their wing and doctors took time out to teach me.

The lessons from those experiences many years ago have rung true throughout my medical training and into the present day. And many of the aspects of paediatrics that first appealed to me still do. This year, I spent time as a junior clinical fellow in paediatric cardiology, where the importance of the MDT was ever present—both on the ward and in the pre-operative assessment clinic. 

Nurses, dieticians and play therapists all supported my work and training. But they also brought the space to life, making what could be a stressful job instead colourful and fun. And the ever-growing display of thank you cards, festive decorations and toy mascots, plus the lively musical performances and visits from local celebrities, are a testament to the team’s passion. 

The tight-knit relationship of the paediatric MDT not only creates a supportive and enjoyable working environment, but also enables a truly holistic approach to care. One poignant example of this is a case involving a patient who had experienced an unexpected and unexplained deterioration at home—despite being otherwise fit and well.  

After some time in intensive care, she was admitted to our ward for ongoing care and rehabilitation. A long road to recovery lay ahead for both patient and family. The coordinated approach of dedicated physiotherapists, teachers, play therapists, and clinical staff, working with the patient and her family, enabled her steady physical and psychological recovery.

Over a number of months, we saw remarkable progress in her physical, emotional and educational abilities. And, on the day of discharge, she excitedly skipped off the ward, smiling and waving goodbye to the MDT. Being able to contribute to the recovery of this patient was both inspiring and touching, and an experience I am proud to have been part of.  

Managing heartbreaking cases may be challenging, but the interventions that follow can be life changing—even lifesaving.

Even within the short six months that I spent in paediatric cardiology, I developed strong relationships with patients and their families. Due to the nature of their conditions, many patients require lifelong involvement in health services—which is why it is so important to build trusting relationships and involve the family in care.  

One of our patients was transferred to the ward when he was just one day old. He needed cardiac catheterization, where a thin tube is inserted into a blood vessel, allowing dilation of a narrowed valve using a balloon.  On top of the patient’s clinical care, my team had to support his parents through what was, of course, a worrying and confusing time.  

Months later, I was delighted to see the patient and his parents in our pre-operative assessment clinic—all of them happy, healthy and smiling. Rewarding interactions like these are great, but small compared with what I’ve witnessed among consultants, who have cultivated strong relationships with patients and families over years of practice. This is something I aspire to. 

My longstanding and ongoing interest in paediatrics has been fueled by the supportive environment, complex cases, and incredibly rewarding relationships I’ve made along the way—with colleagues and patients alike. I have no doubt that these qualities will continue to motivate me through the challenging journey of paediatric training. And I hope that I may have inspired you to consider doing the same. 

To find out more about paediatrics, visit our #ChoosePaediatrics careers page.