Updated: Jun 25, 2020
We are very excited to be sharing an interview with Dr Roisin Finn, a neurosurgical trainee in Oxford. Dr Finn has offered invaluable insight into the life of a neurosurgical trainee and the attractions and challenges of the job, along with advice on what to do during medical school if you have your sights set on surgery. Thank you Dr Finn for your informative and inspiring words.
Could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about what stage you are at in your training? My name is Roisin Finn, I'm an ST6 in neurosurgery in Oxford. I'm also a Chair for the GMC Medical Practioner's Tribunal Service. What led you into neurosurgery? What do you enjoy most about your job and about the specialty? I originally wanted to do plastic and reconstructive surgery but my eyes were opened to neurosurgery when I did part of my elective in Alder Hey Children's hospital and encountered craniofacial operations. I enjoy speaking with the patients, working collaboratively with colleagues and the MDT, as well as the decision making and the operating. Neurosurgery is often high risk and it is a real privilege for patients to trust us with their care during such a difficult time in their lives. What challenges do you encounter in your job and what improvements do you want to see in the neurosurgery world? Lack of a joined up NHS healthcare records system can pose genuine problems when making decisions about acutely unwell patients. It would be wonderful if we could see all of their GP records and local hospital records so as to be informed of all the information when reviewing a new referral. Currently local teams have to send scans electronically to us and this can cause delays to patient care. I hope with the current pace of technological improvements, this will be resolved soon. Could you talk a bit about your experience as a women in neurosurgery? How do you think we can increase the number of women in the field? To be honest, I can honestly say I have never felt discriminated on the basis of my gender by other neurosurgeons. When I was a junior registrar, I used to get unhelpful comments a lot in relation to my gender from both patients and other non-neurosurgeon doctors referring patients to me, which used to be quite upsetting. I spoke to a very well respected female neurosurgeon who told me her way of deal with it was by being so outstanding that no one would ever mistake her for anything else. Certainly as I have become more senior and advanced in my career, I receive these comments less and less. I have to say though, neurosurgeons in my experience are very supportive of diversity within the field.
To answer your question about increasing more women in the field, I think the focus should be made more on making the workplace a more attractive place to work, such as flexible working arrangements, and making it an ethical obligation to speak up if you see discrimination, whether that be on the basis of any of the protected characteristics, gender etc.
I’m undertaking and about to publish a number of projects in this area of gender equality with Mr Mario Ganau, who is a consultant neurosurgeon in Oxford.
What has been your experience of leadership and mentorship in neurosurgery? Have you had any mentors who’ve been very important to you during your training? I met my mentors later in my surgical training when I was having some difficulties in my personal life and I had a nasty car accident. There were a number of consultants in my unit who stood by me and supported me when I was having an exceptionally tough time. They took me under their wing, built my confidence back up again and guided me back on track. I honestly can't thank them enough. Mr Apostolopoulos, Mr Stacey, Mr Plaha, Mr Patel, Mr Jeyaretna, Mr Ganau and Miss Bojanic, to name but a few.
What advice would you give to a medical student interested in neurosurgery or in surgery more generally? See as much of surgery as you can as a medical student and also do as many jobs in surgery as you can as a foundation doctor. While I was at medical school I worked as a surgical assistant in theatres over the summers/ at weekends, which helped me gain a real insight into the life of a surgeon. It's a tough but extremely rewarding life, but it isn't for everyone. The attrition rate for female surgical trainees is approximately 25%, males a bit less, so before starting a career in surgery, be really sure that this is what you want to do, and you understand what you are signing yourself up for.
In terms of getting onto a training post, have a look at the application form and see how it is assessed/weighted and work backwards, creating yourself a roadmap of what you need to achieve to get where you want to be. Ask people in the speciality for tips and often surgeons will be willing to look at your CV and give you advice. Get involved in audits and writing papers, and use your elective wisely. Often you can get bursaries for research projects from very prestigious institutions to do during your elective, which look fantastic on your CV.
Could you describe a typical day in the life of a neurosurgery trainee in the UK? It depends on if it's an operating day or not, or if one is oncall. A usual day starts around 7am with either seeing pre-ops and preparing cases for theatre, and then one goes to handover at 745am. One then does a ward round and either goes to theatre or clinic, or MDT. It's quite fast paced, and actually from a lifestyle perspective, it's easy to keep slim, as you end up rushing around so much. Each day is so very varied, and emergency admissions really keep you on your toes, as often your schedule can change very quickly to deal with a sick patient. It's a super busy and challenging life, but I enjoy coming into work each day, I feel very privileged to work with remarkable and brilliant consultants and colleagues, who always have time for a kind word and to give you advice. I love the variety that each day brings and I love how there is so much to learn within neuroscience and neurosurgery. The brain is one of the last great unknown frontiers known to man, we are really only skimming the surface in terms of understanding this mysterious substance which controls our every move and thought. If you like routine and want a boring life, neurosurgery really isn't for you!
Our final thanks to Dr Finn, and we hope this interview has been helpful to everyone considering a career in neurosurgery!