Dr Priya is a consultant general adult psychiatrist at Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. She is one of 25 women to be highlighted as part of a special project that celebrates the stories of 25 amazing women psychiatrists.
Dr Priya's story
Life was bliss growing up in a loving and protected extended family setting in India. We fought, made up, snatched and shared amongst cousins. Little did I know about the politically unstable situation outside home.
My first venture into the real world was at the age of 17, when I moved across the border to Nepal for my medical education. I got introduced to people from different cultures, coming from different parts of the world. The blanket of protection still continued with the highly structured environment at university. While I got introduced to the intricacies of the human body, I also experienced further complexities of emotions of friendship, jealousy, love and hate among young adults.
Whilst I was at university, my parents moved to England, and all of a sudden, I had to make a decision about where to go next. Which country should I make home? I did not have a home in India anymore, I was just a medical student in Nepal, and I had no rights to work and live in England. If I moved to a new country, how would I adjust there, how would I relearn about things? That’s when I changed my attitude about the borders of countries. It is people who live everywhere. I was still in an early stage of my life and had ample chance to mould myself into any culture.
And then I moved to England. The weather was cold, the accent was different; the principles of medicine were the same, but the practice was different. Still, I felt welcomed, starting from when I prepared for my PLAB1 exam, living in a garage, to when I joined my first foundation doctor post, living in cramped doctors’ accommodation, to when I did my first arterial line as second-year foundation doctor. I was fortunate always to work in teams where I felt respected, valued and supported.
Since childhood, I did not want specifically to be a doctor, but I did know I wanted to bring positive change to people’s lives. I guess that spirit, and the detective streak in me from reading thriller novels, steered me to the world of psychiatry. I wanted to know about the story of the man lying in a coma in ITU; I wanted to ask the husband why he never disclosed his cancer to his wife; I felt the need to find out from the lady why she would keep drinking so much water that her sodium levels would fall dangerously low.
I started off in psychiatry with this inquisitive streak, exploring the untouchable mind, followed by learning the other aspects of legal issues, social problems and medical complications associated with each case. It was incredible to learn that each patient with schizophrenia, bipolar or personality disorder, has their own unique set of symptoms, so different from others with the same diagnosis. Two brothers, having experienced trauma in the family, make their futures so differently.
While the practice of psychiatry satisfied my detective streak and my passion to make positive changes, it did leave me scarred at times. How do I go back home, knowing the person I have discharged will be sleeping on the street today? How do I ask somebody else to look at the positives in life, when I have failed my own exam and do not know what the rest of my career looks like? What can I change for a person who has endured years of emotional abuse? The stories I hear are certainly not music to the ears.
While progressing through the early core years in psychiatry training, I had the necessary hurdle of exams, and the hoops of the visa process to jump through. Following a period of intense tiredness and joint pains, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. I felt quite deflated at that time. My educational supervisor was a great source of inspiration then, and I still remember his words, ‘It is not about if you pass your exams, it is about when’.
As he had predicted, I did succeed with my exams, and I entered higher training in psychiatry. I chose General Adult Psychiatry, as I liked everything in psychiatry and wanted to continue experiencing all it had to offer as a generalist. I learnt many useful lessons about leadership and management in my higher training and also had a taster of being an acting consultant in my final year. This was a special time for me with being pregnant whilst having the added responsibility of being an acting consultant.
Finishing training, I applied for a consultant post, and was fortunate enough to secure one I really wanted. As soon as I started, I was asked to be the placement lead for medical students, which I now recognise was a boon for me. Teaching, training and assessing have allowed me to find an avenue of relaxation within work. The medical students make me ask questions of myself, and never allow my knowledge and practice to get stale.
As I write this narrative, just finishing 3 years of being a consultant in general adult psychiatry, I feel proud of the teams that I have been in and the relationships I have been able to build. I feel happy looking at cards and compliments from patients whose lives I have influenced in positive ways.
Going forward, my message to young psychiatrists is always to show interest in your patients, and always ensure you act in their interests. As a doctor, I have always favoured patient empowerment, supporting my patients to take control of their lives and to have equal shares in managing their difficulties. I have encouraged my patients always consider the things in life that keep them well, whether it be reading, dance or sport. I aim to do the same in my own life; outside work, I continue to enjoy dancing as a hobby. It allows me to express myself without using any words. All I need is a pair of headphones and I am good to go. Apart from the benefits to my own mental peace, dancing also helped immensely with my autoimmune arthritis.
Relationships take a long time to build, and always cherish the people around you. The ‘thank yous’ in psychiatry are very different and come after a long time, so do not get disheartened by this. Recognise that being a doctor is your profession and career, but you are also much more than that. You still are an artist, dancer, biker and a gym enthusiast. Never stop learning, whether it be the art or the science of medicine.
- Examinations taken by doctors trained overseas to demonstrate readiness to work in the UK.