From 24-hour shifts to 8am-6pm days: Irish doctor relishes her new London life

Wild Geese: Jenny Stokes says her new home offers better work-life balance

Rathmines native Jenny Stokes says she has been impressed with the NHS since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

Rathmines native Jenny Stokes says she has been impressed with the NHS since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

 

Moving to another country during a pandemic was less daunting than Jenny Stokes had expected. “I’d heard horror stories of people not finding anywhere to live, but I got lucky with friends who had already moved here,” says the now west London resident, who is training to specialise in obstetrics and gynaecology.

After completing her bachelor degree in psychology at Trinity College, Rathmines native Stokes moved to Cork to study medicine at University College Cork. Graduating in 2012, she returned to Dublin to work in Tallaght hospital, deciding to commence training in obstetrics and gynaecology with the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland. Twelve-month rotations were to take her to the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin before returning to Cork University Hospital.

But in mid-2020, an opportunity at the University College London Hospital in London (UCLH) presented itself.

“Due to Covid-19, a lot of Irish non-consultant hospital doctors had their training abroad cancelled or postponed. The opportunity to gain experience in a different health system and country, so progressing my training whilst Covid-19 was going was something I couldn’t turn down.”

Situated in the heart of London, UCLH houses acute and specialised services comprising vaccine centres, a centre for tropical diseases, a cancer wing and a university hospital among others. “I work in the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Wing – the ultrasound screening unit.”

NHS

Stokes scans women at various stages of pregnancy. “At UCLH, we conduct a detailed examinations between 11 and 14 weeks. A combined screening blood test measures hormones released by the pregnancy in the mother’s blood. The scan will look at the nuchal translucency level, fluid behind the baby’s neck. It is possible to suspect heart or brain issues or spina bifida that early, although it is rare.

“Non-invasive prenatal testing looks for Down syndrome, Edwards’ syndrome and Patau syndrome. If we identify anything of note on the scan, or the result is deemed “high risk” we refer them to our colleagues in foetal medicine. In the UK, all women are offered combined screening and subsequent non-invasive prenatal testing if needed for free under the NHS. This is not the case in Ireland yet.”

Stokes says that, outside of the screening tests, any concerns with the baby’s anatomy such as spina bifida are referred to sub-specialists in foetal medicine. From there, some parents may be offered foetal surgery, depending on certain clinical findings.

“There is a very small number of doctors in the world who can perform surgery on the tiny foetus, while still in the mother’s belly, based here and in Leuven, Belgium. It’s incredible work.” Operating on babies between 23 and 26 weeks of pregnancy, instead of after birth, results in a much better outcome for the baby.

“The procedure involves a team of up to 30 in the operating theatre, including foetal surgeons and neonatologists. As a result, dozens of babies with spina bifida have been spared paralysis and other life-limiting conditions.”

Stokes says she also works as a registrar on the labour ward and is involved in clinics for women who have had preterm deliveries in the past, women who have significant medical conditions and women who have had adverse outcomes in previous pregnancies.

She says the area is fascinating to work in and seeing how tiny 12-week old foetuses are already developed at just 5cm to 6cm is incredible.

“It is also interesting to experience the differences in our experiences and how their healthcare systems work. The ultrasound department is run by doctors (most hospitals don’t do this), mostly obstetricians at varying stages of their training.”

The NHS is very well staffed, she adds. “From my experience, they are more well staffed than our healthcare service in Ireland. Everything they do is free. There is no crossover. So the public funds pay for the NHS. While there are private clinics too, they are entirely separate.”

Stokes says she has been impressed with the NHS since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

“During January and February, we did have more pregnant women with Covid-19 in ICU. The majority of women are absolutely fine with Covid-19 but there were a small number of very sick women. Also, regarding the vaccine, there has been lots of discussion but what is great is that it seems like a lot of patients have received theirs.”

In general, the expectation here is higher from patients than it is in Ireland, she says.

Stokes says that, in Ireland, she was doing 24-hour shifts but in the UK work runs from 8am to 6pm on weekdays. “We have teaching most mornings and then it is straight into a scan list, labour ward or clinics. I get to enjoy evenings and now the summer weekends, which is great.”

Opportunities

A benefit of working in London is the amount of opportunities on offer. “There are a lot of jobs here in the UK and you can really specialise in areas of medicine, so I will be staying on here.

“In Ireland, it was challenging changing locations and jobs every 12 months as I am not yet fully trained. So if I were to return home now, I’d still have to do five years of training.”

Despite spending much of the time in lockdown and getting the virus before Christmas last year, Stokes has noticed a shift in the way people socialise.

“Since reopening, I’ve noticed people are less likely to go out, rather prefer to stay home or sit in someone’s garden. You’d regularly go out for a drink, but eat at home or sit in a park. Despite the lack of restrictions, I think it will be a long time before London is completely back to how it was before the pandemic.

“Obviously that could change, but it will be interesting to see what happens,” she adds.

Stokes hasn’t been home since moving to the UK, but close friends and family members who live nearby have made the transition and move easier than it could have been.

“I’m very happy here. I have not been home since I moved, which is strange for an Irish person in London, but I am lucky to have my brother and close friends here and I’m looking forward to the endless possibilities London will present.”

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