Dr Sorcha Hume is a Head of Service at a charity, having made her transition from Foundation traning to now being responsible for the development and implementation of the charitable activity of The Archie Foundation. In just 9 months she progressed from a volunteer to senior staff member, a role she has largely created herself. Sorcha enjoys advising colleagues on the medical matters, assessing the impact of funding on children’s families, and helping all those who need it to access support.
I was a junior doctor when I left medicine, part way through my FY2 year. I am now the Head of Service for a children’s charity in the North of Scotland.
The timing of my move away from medicine was not planned, I woke up one morning and just couldn’t get out of bed. Depression had crept up on me, and I was completely burnt out. It is easy to see the warning signs retrospectively, and I think that I was always a little unsure of my career choice, even before starting university. I would set myself goals like, ‘If I fail this exam, I’ll know this isn’t for me’ but as a perfectionist, I always studied hard and although not top of the class, I always passed. Eighteen months on, and I’m so glad it happened, although not that it did in such a dramatic way, as it made me re-evaluate my life.
I came across ARCHIE by chance, I was on sick leave and wanted to do something to give myself a routine but obviously wasn’t allowed to work. I decided to do some volunteering, and only started at The ARCHIE Foundation because I knew someone who worked there. As I learnt more about the organisation and met the team, I started to think that I could have a place there. I was still looking at other options; in oil and gas, pharma, even becoming a teacher. But they were all just a job, and ARCHIE became a place I could build a career.
For a long time, colleagues, health professionals and supervisors urged me to return to medicine, as they felt my mental state was clouding my judgement. Although seriously unwell at the time, I always knew that I would not change my mind. Despite this, I took the advice of others and tried to go back to my old job. Everything had changed; I was treated differently, I wasn’t allowed to see patients on my own and it felt completely wrong. This was the turning point where I realised I had to start listening to myself. Family and friends took a long time to understand, as I had always been so sure of career choice, even as a child. They just need to look at me now though and they completely understand, I am a much happier, more confident and well-balanced person.
My boyfriend has been my knight in shining armour throughout this difficult journey. He has supported me on my darkest days, and been there to share the good times. I am also lucky to have a very close and caring family, who have helped me to find myself again. I received a lot of support as a patient, but especially from my GP, who went over and above to help me through my illness. He listened without judgement and gave me his time when he had none. If I was having a particularly rough day, I would phone the practice and he would always call back and listen to my worries. I am certain that my recovery would have been far more complicated without that lifeline.
I think that doctors often worry how they would adapt to other careers, but you would be amazed how many skills are transferrable. Communication skills, coping under pressure, prioritisation, managing huge workloads; they all translate to other careers, and I am just one example of how everything you learn as a medical student and doctor can be relevant in a seemingly completely unrelated field.
The feeling of being a failure was hard to shake. I felt like I had failed my family, my patients and myself. I could have gone back to medicine, but I chose not to. ‘What kind of person does that make me?’ – I would tell myself. I have finally overcome this by becoming successful in other areas and learning to look after myself. I ran a 10k last year, I moved in with my boyfriend, I have achieved success in a new career. The perfectionist tendencies that make doctors so good at looking after others, mean we are often pretty bad at looking after ourselves. Once I realised that my career wasn’t the sum of me, I started to enjoy life again, and enjoy the challenge of finding a career to fit me, not the other way around.
Career development at medical school made me feel like I had to fit into one box or another. I wish I had known that you don’t have to follow the herd and go through each stage of your career exactly like everyone else. I would never have dreamed that I would have created a new position within a completely different sector, but I have. There are always other paths you can take, you just have to find them and have the courage to follow them.
I don’t make as much money as I did as a doctor, but I feel richer in other ways. I love my job, I feel that I am a valued and important member of the team, and I have the time and energy to enjoy my life outside work.
My work inspires me, and the amazing people I meet every day who live with serious illness or care for those who do.
I have always had a deep desire to help others, and in my current role, I feel that I am genuinely making a difference to people’s lives. I didn’t have such a strong feeling as a junior doctor. Perhaps this was because I was exhausted much of the time, spent much of my day filling in paperwork or carrying out procedures, and had very little time to spend with patients. Just thinking about it brings back memories of lying in bed at night wondering how my patients were. I don’t miss that haunting feeling.
At the moment, I am working on expanding the family support program for the local children’s hospital, developing a health promotion campaign for local cafes and working to improve the funding application procedures within the charity. My vision for the future is that every child and family in the North of Scotland will have access to all of the support they need when they they are faced with ill health.
Out with work, I am beginning to reach out to local schools and universities, to share my story and get people talking about mental health. Throughout my patient journey, I often wished I had someone to talk to who had been through a similar experience. I hope that I can change things for future medical students and doctors by working to reducing the stigma attached to mental illness.
It would say first of all to trust your instincts – if something doesn’t feel right, there is usually a reason why, and you shouldn’t ignore that feeling. Secondly, it’s okay not to get it right first time, lots of people change their minds. I have met senior doctors who have quit medicine to become ski instructors, and mature students who after getting married and having kids, decided to apply to medical school. Lastly, I think it is really important to think about what you want out of life – do you want to get married and have kids? Or travel the world? Or dedicate all of your time to your career and be the best at what you do? Different career paths come with different lifestyles, and you’ve got to make sure they fit in with you.
You are very welcome!