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Wilkommen to my blog - my name is Karin Purshouse, and I'm a doctor in the UK. If you're looking for ramblings on life as a junior doctor, my attempts to dual-moonlight as a scientist and balancing all that madness with a life, you've come to the right place. I'm currently a doctor/research trainee in oncology after spending a year doing research in the USA. All original content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Imposter Syndrome

Well, exciting times folks.  We found something cool!  Well, I should say Gary the Cell started off something cool, which some clever colleagues of mine have transported into a very exciting discovery.  In short, the genetic mutation that is considered one of the earliest steps in the development of brain cancer might actually render brain tumours targetable by drugs that are currently used in patients with, for example, ovarian cancer.  This might transform the way we treat brain cancers.  Isn't that awesome?!

That's the good version of my 'clinician attempts to do science' story.  Clinician scientists have a unique role because we connect the patient world with that of lab bench land - this is often called 'Translational Science' because the aim is to 'translate' research findings from the lab into something of relevance and importance to patients. 

But man, it is not always easy.  When I was doing research in the USA, I was largely protected from the quandary of splitting yourself down the middle between two jobs because my type of visa meant I wasn't allowed to work clinically.  This year, I am predominantly doing oncology research; we're trying to understand what happens when cancers outgrow their blood supply.  This means that increasingly cancers adapt to survive without oxygen.  These 'low oxygen' parts of tumours are particularly resistant to treatment.  We're trying to capitalise on this cancer-unique situation so that we can develop new ways of reaching these untreatable parts of cancer.  But alongside that, I do a colorectal cancer clinic once a week under the supervision of an amazing couple of Professors - seeing patients on your own in such a specialised setting is ultimately what I hope to do for the rest of my career, but it's a huge responsibility that I take very seriously as well as enjoy a great deal.

Exciting stuff, but there's a reason why people spend 5-6 years at medical school or 6-7 years (if you count Bachelors/Masters/PhD degrees) at university to become a doctor of either medicine or science.  I often feel a bit like Bambi on ice trying to stay on my feet, and now that I'm doing research back in the UK, I have to keep my toe in the clinical world.

Can medical doctors be good doctors AND be good scientists?  Perhaps I'm not in the best position to judge.  I became a doctor because I love people, science and the interchange between the two, but I also think it's important to use that to see where the gaps and problems are and look towards solutions - which is where the science bit comes in.  But of course I don't know anywhere near as much about the science itself, or different scientific techniques, as people who have committed their entire career to the discipline.  It's something I sometimes feel guilty about because resources and funding are increasingly tough to come by and you want to know they're being used as efficiently as possible.  I'm also acutely aware that modern day drug discovery results in therapeutics often beyond the financial scope of even very wealthy countries, and that actually improving service provision and accessibility to existing therapies offers huge life saving opportunities.  Would my research skills be better used improving the utility and efficiency of what we've already got?

The worst and weirdest thing about splitting yourself between the two is that when you're doing one of them (say, clinical medicine), you worry that those with whom you do the other (science) think you're just having a wee break, and vice versa.  Certainly I sense from some of my doctor pals that I'm on a relaxed year of research.  Everyone (I think) knows how hard doctors work, but scientists are absolute machines with a phenomenal work ethic who, at a PhD and post-doc level have minimal job security and tough job prospects.  It's a privilege to be part of that and know that if your whole experiment goes down the pan, you can still sling a stethoscope round your neck and do another job that you also love.

I'm very lucky to have two completely different areas of professional interest that make my brain swizzle so much in completely different ways.  Perhaps feeling like a bit of an imposter in both is the trade-off - and perhaps a trade-off that will evolve over time.  Especially as it's only one part of the life jigsaw!

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