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Dr Liz Dawson
Consultant Old Age Psychiatrist
It’s been quite an exciting first few weeks for Dr Liz Dawson in her role as a POA Consultant in the Southern Trust’s Gillis Dementia Unit. Sitting at her desk on a Friday morning, Liz can finally reflect on a long journey that has seen her move from the role of Specialty Doctor to Consultant. However, there is a lot more to Dr Dawson than just her clinical role.
Liz has been Chair of RCPsych NI’s SAS Committee since 2016, as well as a College Assessor and Mentor. In July, she will assume the role of RCPsych NI’s Finance Officer. Whilst, previously, in the Northern Trust, she was the SAS Lead, together with Foundation Educational Supervisor. And, let’s not forget, in November last year she received the ultimate accolade from her peers when she was awarded UK SAS Doctor of the Year by the College in Prescot Street.
Dr Dawson feels that the change in role has presented her with a valuable development opportunity.
“The Consultant post is something that I have been waiting to embrace,” said Liz. “I consider myself to be enthusiastic and this position will enable me to expand on my interests, particularly in quality improvement, which is my passion.”
Previously, Liz had worked as a Specialty Doctor in the Northern Trust for eight years. Hailing from Ballymoney, County Antrim, Liz finished her medical degree at Queen’s in 2007 and then completed her Core Training in psychiatry. Her anticipated path through Higher Training was shortened though when family circumstances changed.
During that period, Liz’s CV was enhanced greatly when she took an interest in the local College and was elected Chair of the SAS Committee. Throughout that period, her work has been characterised with a desire for improving recognition for SAS doctors, promoting parity of opportunity and career progression.
Asked if she had any advice for her peers thinking of going down the CESR route, Liz points out that other options exist. “The choice is always there to finish Higher Training, and this can be intimidating, but it is more structured. I would say speak to senior colleagues and take their advice as the time and effort required to complete CSER can, at times, be burdensome.”
Taking advice from colleagues is something that Liz has always sought throughout her career, but would she single out anyone who has been her role model? “There really has been too many people who have inspired me along my journey, and it would be unfair to single anybody out. I have though taken an active interest in the history of psychiatry and Elizabeth Kubler, the Swiss-American psychiatrist, is a person who I have learned from and find inspirational.
"She was a pioneer in near-death studies and wrote the ground-breaking book ‘On Death and Dying’, which outlined her theory of the five stages of grief. She left home at 16 and was a hospital volunteer in World War Two before entering medical school. I think she is a fascinating character given that her background, like my own, was quite humble.
“Elizabeth Kubler achieved so much, and I too am very thankful for what I have achieved so far. Medicine was the profession I wanted to enter from an early age, and I am proud to say that I was the first member of my family to go to university.”
On the current crisis, Liz feels that there are challenges for medicine and psychiatry that will change the way in which care is delivered. “Families are having to deal with difficult situations, particularly with social isolation and the bereavement process. The social norms that we had become acclimatised to are changing with technology replacing face-to-face interaction to some extent.
“The role of the voluntary sector has also become increasingly important for the older population in terms of managing social isolation. As part of my role, I continue to work along with organisations such as the Alzheimer’s Society and Age NI to provide public education and to proactively gain feedback about how to best improve our services."
Despite the current challenges, Liz still finds her role rewarding, particularly when she can help individuals and families in times of crisis. “Sadly, there is no cure at present for dementia, but we have to remain optimistic," said Liz.
“I find it so pleasing when I, personally, am able to improve the quality of life for sufferers, both for them and their families. I feel passionate about medicine and psychiatry and it is very satisfying when you see that you can make a difference for patients, families and colleagues alike.”