Consultant Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon
My advice to anyone thinking about a career in medicine is that you have to be absolutely sure that you want to do it. It is not a profession for people who are looking at it as just another option to have a tinker at. It requires dedication and hard work but can be the most rewarding job there is.
My name is Charles Durrant. I am a Consultant Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon living and working in Portsmouth on the South Coast. I am married with three kids and believe in the importance of maintaining a healthy work/life balance.
I wanted to study medicine since I was about 8 years old. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was always “orthopaedic surgeon” (whereas my older brother wanted to be a policeman as long as he could wear a fireman’s hat – he was Lynedoch class of ’90 and anyone who knew him won’t be remotely surprised by this, even though he is now a successful fund broker!). I was inspired by orthopaedic surgery that I had to my knee as a young chap and have always found the inner workings of the human body fascinating. Of course, I also wanted to help people, but that came later. I entered medical school wanting to be an orthopaedic surgeon and left medical school wanting to be an orthopod. I then worked in orthopaedics and found it wasn’t for me.
My very next training placement was in Plastic Surgery and I was immediately hooked. It is the most general of all surgical specialties. Our specialty involves reconstruction of the head & neck, the face, the trunks, the limbs, the hands, the feet, the genitalia and the entirety of the integument (skin). We are, therefore trained to operate on all areas of the body, from the top of the head to the sole of the foot and from new-borns to the very elderly. We subspecialise further into our training so that we do not become ‘jacks of all trades and masters of none. In my case, I specialise in breast reconstruction (following mastectomy), although I still do skin cancers and hand trauma.
The covid pandemic has thrown our specialty somewhat into disarray as many of our procedures are not considered high priority (think of it as quality-of-life-saving surgery rather than life-saving surgery – although obviously cancer work is still considered very important). I have been redeployed from my usual working routine in order to relieve the pressures on A&E. In some units, Plastic Surgeons have bee redeployed to ITU to assist in patient handling. In the case of our department, we run a minor injuries clinic separate from A&E that bypasses the ER and takes some of that pressure off. We have also had annual leave cancelled (now reinstated) and placed on a full shift system to ensure robust coverage in the hospital. We wear surgical scrubs all day and wear aprons, masks and gloves when seeing any patient regardless of their covid status and we operate on any ‘aerosol-generating-procedures’ in full Personal Protective Equipment. The workload comes in fits and starts but there is a collegiate atmosphere at the moment that is hard to beat.
I got where I am today through hard work, obviously, but also by making sure that I keep my humanity. The A level requirements for Medical School back in the early 90’s was BBC, believe it or not (I obtained four A grades at A level but one of my closest mates – also an OW as it happens – got in on appeal with BCC and is now one of the most well-respected orthopaedic surgeons in the country!). Although the academic requirements are much higher these days, it is important to be well-rounded. I was once told by a senior consultant that, to become a good doctor, you must first become a good person. That means that you should have interests outside of medicine that ground you and keep you sane. You must be able to leave your work at the door when you get home or the stress can be damaging. I started Medical School aged 19 and became a consultant aged 38. Nineteen years of training but I loved every minute of it.
My advice to anyone thinking about a career in medicine is that you have to be absolutely sure that you want to do it. It is not a profession for people who are looking at it as just another option to have a tinker at. It requires dedication and hard work but can be the most rewarding job there is. While the hours are much less arduous as a trainee (48 hours per week rather than 100 hours when I was a House Officer!), the goal at the end – a consultant position – is not the same either. The cliché of the Consultant spending all of his or her time on the golf course or in the private sector is dead and buried. Everything is consultant-led now. This is good for patients and good for the NHS, but it means that the hard work continues. Just be sure to maintain a healthy balance between work and play.
Enjoy your time at school, they really are the best days of your life in spite of how it might feel right now! Learn whatever you can from whomever you can. The best teachers will stay with you forever (I’m looking at you, Potter, Bawden, Clapp, Foskett, Knacker Jones, Kempo, Coleman, Mitchell). Good luck and see you on the rounds.