Dr Shagorika Talukuder speaks with Dr Kunduzi offering an insight into what it is like to be a cardiothoracic surgeon, her journey in getting there and offers advice to students wanting to pursue a career in surgery.
I studied Medicine at UCL in London. After graduating, I completed FY1 and FY2 knowing I wanted to pursue a career in surgery, but I was still undecided on which field exactly. As such, I took a gap and came out of training for two years. In that period, I realised how much I enjoyed my rotation in cardiothoracic surgery, my final rotation as a FY2 doctor. I enjoyed all aspects of the role: looking after patients before going into surgery, getting involved in the surgery itself and looking after the patients post-operatively.
Between FY2 and Getting into Training
I realised in those two years following FY2 that I needed to build my portfolio and strengthen my application if I were to be successful. In those two years, I travelled a little bit, did a diploma in Tropical Medicine as I would like to work in developing countries at some stage in my career and worked as a locum SHO at the Royal Brompton. I am now an SHO, an ST2, in Cardiothoracic Surgery.
Cardiothoracic surgery splits into ‘cardiac’ and ‘thoracic’ where a surgeon can choose one or the other. I am quite interested in pursuing the cardiac pathway but I keep my eyes open in case that does change.
The training to become a consultant is usually eight years in total but due to recent changes, I will do five years of registrar training making it seven years in total. Following that, I can apply for fellowship or consultancy posts.
Pros and Cons of the Job
I have quite an insight into what it is like to be a cardiothoracic registrar – looking up patient notes, seeing what surgery they have, looking after the patients pre- and post-operatively. Although the responsibility isn’t on me directly which can make it a bit uncertain at time, I enjoy it as I am quite well protected, and I can see that I am an important part of the team too.
Equally, some of the ward work can be challenging – doing discharge summaries which can sometimes come in the way of going to clinics or seeing patients, tasks expected as a registrar in cardiothoracic surgery. Balancing the two and finding that balance can often be difficult.
I usually start at 7am in the morning, change into scrubs and print off the patient list. The ward round usually starts soon after with the registrar and I, the SHO, seeing patients who are expected to have surgery that day. This usually finishes around 8am. Following which, we go downstairs to theatre to brief our consultant on the patients that day. If I have planned to go to theatre that day, I aim to finish all the jobs I need to do before going to theatre. Those jobs may entail writing up discharge summaries, ordering X-rays, writing up their notes and so on. I then hand over my bleep to a colleague and I would go to theatre. The day finishes at different times depending on the jobs I have left to do and according to the state of the patients.
Cardiothoracic surgery is traditionally a male-dominated sphere, but it is changing slowly. When I wanted to do it initially, I had some great mentors who encouraged me to pursue a surgical career, but some also suggested that it would be difficult to balance life and career.
In the hospital I work at, I haven’t felt like there are things I can’t do because I am a woman and I am encouraged to get involved in different tasks and jobs wherever I can. There is also a great Women in Surgery (WINS) network as part of the Royal College of Surgeons who have incredible mentors.
The advice I would give to any would-be female surgeon is to never let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do. There should be no limits in your mind as to what you achieve – if that’s surgery, then go for it. The second thing is to try and plan and organise wherever possible. If you really want to pursue a career in surgery, then try and plan your portfolio early and really start that as early as possible – it really helps you later with applications.
As a Bangladeshi, I have never experienced any racism or suggestions that I can’t do things because of my ethnic background. Perhaps I have and I haven’t realised but again I have always been told to not let anyone tell you that you can’t do things because of your ethnicity so I would offer the same advice to those from an ethnic minority background.
Tips on Getting into Surgery
I would strongly suggest starting as early as possible. Once you’ve realised that you want to pursue a career in surgery, start thinking about your portfolio, get involved in research and try and attend conferences. Medigate is a great platform to achieve all of these things and it puts everything in one place to help you access the things you want and really bolster your application!
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