I applied to medical school because my biology teacher said I should be more ambitious in my career plans. I was planning on being a nurse at the time, but I did what I was told, as no doubt will many intelligent young people who read this article.
However, there was another, more profound reason I chose to be a doctor. The same biology teacher recommended that I should apply for a school travel scholarship, which I again duly did. So, off I went to Tanzania to work with an obstetrician.
The experience changed my life. I witnessed amazing and awful things while I was there, one of which was watching a young woman bleed to death after childbirth.
So by the time I went off to medical school, I had already decided what I was going to do. I said to myself: “I am going to be an obstetrician”.
Medical school is tough, and just getting into one nowadays is more competitive than ever. I think that as doctors, we sometimes forget the fact that most people are well. However, if we take our responsibility seriously, we should encourage and empower people to make the best of their lives, even if there is some ill-health along the way, and indeed even if the person has a considerable health burden to bear.
My belief in this part of a doctor’s duty is what drove me to take the next step in my career. I’m still a full time doctor – I still see patients on wards and in clinics, and I still perform operations – but for the last three years, I have spent a significant amount of my spare time setting up my own telemedicine business.
Dr Morton’s – the medical helpline is a service for busy people who would like to speak to a doctor right now. The website recognises the phone number of the customer (we call them customers and not patients, as indeed that is what they are) and ‘screen pops’ their medical history on the computer in front of the doctor.
Our system is so sophisticated, it can even recognise whether the phone number belongs to a woman and trigger a message that asks if they have a woman’s health issue and would like to speak to a gynaecologist.
I assure you, if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it. You only have to look at Tony Males’ book ‘Telephone Consultations in Primary Care’ to see how well validated this method of consulting really is.
It’s also not as complex as it sounds; if you ever sit in on a GP clinic, you’ll realise that, often, people just need a word of reassurance. The average length of calls to us is just 4.6 minutes.
Gone are the days when people stayed in the same village, town or city from cradle to grave, making ‘continuity of care’ in the GP setting incredibly difficult to deliver. Of course, there will be many people who temporarily or throughout their lives will benefit from continuity of care, either because they have a chronic or serious illness, or sometimes because of difficult life circumstances.
The precious and dwindling NHS resources need to be saved for these people and, in my view, people with minor temporary medical problems should seek a resolution as quickly and conveniently as possible, and if that means paying a modest fee for this, then so be it.
I realise that the concept of paying for healthcare is entirely alien in the UK, and maybe even controversial, but people who believe that the NHS can provide all types of healthcare, for everyone and forever, are largely deluding themselves.
Medicine is the final frontier as far as on-line speaking to an expert goes, with banking and insurance being far ahead of the medics. There is tendency to imagine that medicine always requires a face-to-face interaction, but the clear fact is that over 70% of problems that people go to their GP about could be solved on the phone, particularly true if medicines can be sent to the customer through the post (which is another thing my business does).
They say that artificial intelligence will replace a lot of what doctors do. Can you imagine having your initial consultation with a robot? Well the technology is already out there, and although crude at present, such systems will get better and better as time goes on. A fascinating part of having a business in this sector is being able to keep up to speed with the newest development in health technology and seeing how they change the landscape of clinical practice.
I really couldn’t recommend it more as a career – it is intellectually stimulating, humbling, exciting, and rewarding in every way – but what they don’t tell you at school, and even medical school, is what else you can do with medical expertise. Your career could take you to places you never even dreamed of.
Look at me: I started out as every other doctor – I was never trained to be a hard-nosed businesswoman, and I am not in the least bit ‘techy’, and yet here I am – the Founder and Medical Director of a Health Tech start up.
Your life’s path and your career will so often be shaped by split second events. I liken it to the movie ‘Sliding doors’ – a fantastic story of two parallel lives which turn out completely differently depending on whether the main character squeezes her way through the closing tube doors. Life is full of sliding doors experiences.
Keep your eyes and your mind open. You never know what kind of doors will be opening for you.
By Dr Karen Morton, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist and Founder of Dr Morton’s – the medical helpline©
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