Spotlight on A&E Interview

This month we talk to Dr. Carin Harrington, an A&E career locum, and specialist A&E medical recruitment consultant Melissa Toy. Together they share their insights on the profession and what makes supporting Emergency Medicine departments such a challenging, yet rewarding career. Dr. Harrington explains how with Melissa’s help, locum doctor work allows her to fulfil her two passions – practising as an accident and emergency doctor, and building zoos.

How did you become an Accident & Emergency doctor?

Dr. Carin Harrington:  “Originally, I chose to train in General Practice I imagined it would give a lot of freedom to follow my dreams and to practice a medicine career based out in the Islands of Scotland in remote towns.

However, my training was put on hold abruptly due to being involved in a car accident, which caused me to suffer major trauma and be treated in intensive care for two weeks. The level of care I received whilst in resuscitation was outstanding, and it was then I witnessed just how amazing A&E doctors are and how crucial their role is in saving peoples’ lives. The level of pressure that they are put under in their day-to-day jobs is incredible, and they really are all heroes for doing what they do.

After nearly six months in recovery and some time out, I went back to my medical training to complete the General Practice training and further specialise in trauma, having been inspired by the A&E doctors that treated me. Funnily enough, reflecting back to med school, I took a character analysis that said my persona was best suited to an A&E job because I liked adrenaline rushes and was really excited by the ‘first critical hour’. They probably thought I was crazy!

I went on to do my surgical rotations in Carlisle, and there I had guidance from Mr. Lyons, Head of Surgery and Mr. Ions lead Orthopaedic consultant who really were fantastic mentors. They taught mostly in trauma care, which is now one of my main interests in A&E medicine.

Then, for a short time I went on to a locum A&E job as a registrar at Southampton General.  Whilst I was there I fell in love with an Irish man who later became my husband, and ended up following him to China where he went to teach English.

Whilst I was in China, I spent time working at both American Beijing and Nanjing hospitals as an emergency evacuation doctor. It was a really exciting experience. There, I was lucky to have another fantastic mentor – an American Doctor ex Professor of Russian studies called Serge  (Chairman of A&E Medicine). He reassured me that I had what it takes to be an A&E doctor and gave me the confidence to carry on doing what I was doing.

In my role we’d go out searching finding foreign casualties all over China and transport them back to the central hospitals in Beijing and Shanghai. The work involves flying out to sites in China sometimes remote and collecting patients with air ambulances, moving them back by plane to main hospital in Beijing for stabilisation and then flying them back to their country of origin.

I also spent some time in Shanghai American hospital practising emergency medicine, which was mostly hospital-based. Alongside working as a locum doctor, I had an opportunity to pursue my other passion – zoology. I used the time when I wasn’t practising as a doctor to set up a foundation to help build zoos in China, ensuring they emulated animals’ natural habitats.

After 12 years in China, my family made the decision to come back to the UK, and I continued practising my locum medicine career alongside my work for the foundation. I’m really thankful to RIG Locums who looked after me big time and have made being a career locum possible. One of the biggest concerns as a locum doctor is ensuring you have enough work but with RIG Locums, I know where I am working two months in advance – they make it very easy”.

What does your role as an A&E doctor entail, and what does a typical shift look like?

Dr. Carin Harrington: “As a middle grade emergency medicine locum, my role is mainly to act as a support unit to junior and senior doctors. Most of my time is usually spent in resuscitation, but I also train and mentor junior doctors and pick up slack in other areas when things get really busy.

Within A&E departments there is a constant flux of different doctors, especially within training hospitals. However, middle grade doctors and senior doctors provide the skeleton.

The role of the locum is so important in A&E, they really help plug the gaps and ensure that departments are able to run. In the past, locums were often treated like second-class citizens, but not anymore, their contribution is invaluable”.

What challenges do you face as an A&E doctor?

Dr. Carin Harrington: Definitely the pressure – it gets worse in A&E every day and emergency departments are bursting at the seams. As a consequence, you get such little time with each patient and you are under constant pressure to move patients on.  Therefore, it is really important that you listen carefully to patients are telling you and that you stay calm to provide reassurance”.

In response to this Melissa Toy added: “I have had the privilege of working with some very talented physicians during my time as a specialist consultant with RIG Locums and hearing of their experiences, departmental trials, and tribulations has been an enlightening experience. From departments full of tears to those full of laughter, the day of an A&E doctor seems to be an emotional roller-coaster. With the increased pressures, both patient based and political, it is apparent that all departments require exceptional team work, dedication, clinical experience and passion”.

What do you enjoy about your role most?

Dr. Carin Harrington:

“As well as the opportunity to help people at their most vulnerable being a major factor, I enjoy the different challenges this specialty throws at us, and not knowing what the next case will be.

I particularly like working in smaller hospitals. The more shifts you work in the same hospital, the more you feel like a part of the team. At one hospital, as a locum I’ve even been invited to staff parties, which really makes you feel included in the team!”

Melissa Toy:

“Accident and Emergency medicine is one of, if not the biggest, shortage area of medical professionals in the UK. This creates endless opportunities for locum doctors and locum agencies to support the NHS and make a positive impact to the services available to the public.

Although I am not personally treating patients, working so closely with both the emergency professionals and the departments they service, offers a unique opportunity for me to see the difference they make. When I hear about the stories that go on behind the scenes and the incredible work that doctors like Dr.Harrington do, it makes me feel very committed to my role. I feel proud that I am able to support medical professionals achieve their career goals and also indirectly help to improve patient care”.

If you could list the top qualities required to be a successful A&E doctor, what would they be?

Dr. Carin Harrington:

  • Staying calm under pressure. You just need to look at the A&E consultants; it is really admirable how they cope when they have one of the most difficult jobs of all.
  • Finding the positives in every situation is essential.
  • Being cheerful – this helps reassure patients and dissipates some of the tension that can build up when everyone is working under such pressure.

What advice would you give to doctors who are wishing to specialise in A&E?

Dr. Carin Harrington:

Show your keenness and approach the department that you would like to work in. Every A&E department is different, so locum work is a good opportunity to experience different hospitals.”

And finally … Melissa what advice would you offer to doctors considering locum jobs in A&E?

Melissa Toy: “My advice is be dedicated, enjoy the experience but above all keep an open mind about your hospital choices and consider all aspects of a placement fully.  Some doctor locums prefer to work in busy hospitals such as major trauma centres where they can experience very busy, challenging environment others prefer smaller district hospitals where they are able to feel more directly invested in the communities they serve. Either way there are endless opportunities for clinical and personal development. Locuming is a fantastic way to network with other A&E specialists and experience everything that an emergency medicine role has to offer while working with likeminded passionate professionals”.

As we’ve read from Dr. Harrington’s interview locum doctor work can bring flexibility and freedom to dedicate energy to other projects that matter to you. Dr. Harrington’s story is remarkable and she’s one of many career locums working with us who have made a viable career out of locum work.

If you have a hobby, want to make time for charity work or a freelance project, then you can comfortably combine this with locum placements during the hours you have available. Every day we hear from more doctors looking for a better work/life balance who decide to opt for flexible locum placements that fit around their schedules. If you’re interested in launching a locum career then get in touch today to speak to one of our specialist medical recruitment consultants.

Article published by Samantha Elgie, Marketing Manager, RIG Locums Limited