Who I am: Catriona / Cat / Treen Felderhof, final year dual registrar in Anaesthesia and ICM in the West of Scotland and Deputy Trainee Representative for FICM, mother to three very active boys.
Who I am not: Superwoman (I have the mountain of washing and chaotic house to prove it) and nor should I need to be…
I perhaps haven’t chosen to take the most straightforward route through training by having three children during the latter half but as I come into the home straight before CCT, I also don’t have any regrets. There probably aren’t many of us that come through training without our own personal challenges and hurdles whether they be family, health, financial or exam related. Training years, even without these additional difficulties, are a stressful period. I personally dealt with this by going less than full time as that suited my personal situation. It gave me the breathing space I needed to deal with the delicate balancing act between work and home life. I know others who have managed to continue to train full time in similar circumstances, I have a profound respect for this and I eye their long since past CCT dates with a degree of envy. Having both options open to doctors in training allows them to chose a scenario which best suits their own situation and I believe it will help promote diversity amongst the future consultant population.
I didn’t come straight out of university knowing that I wanted to be an intensivist and anaesthetist, I took a more circuitous route. After an inspiring elective in Grenada repairing machete injuries with the inimitable Dr. Dragon, I came out of university thinking I wanted to be a surgeon and spent the first few years chasing that misapprehension. My lightbulb moment came in colorectal theatre one day (when the bowel prep had been less than adequate) and I looked up at the anaesthetists and felt sure I was at the wrong end of the patient. A brief hop, skip and a jump through A&E and acute medicine to assist me getting to my final destination and my feet are firmly planted in anaesthesia and ICM, I’ve never looked back and I think it’s all experience that I continue to benefit from.
As part of my salsa through specialties I’ve sat exams, a ridiculous number of exams, a thirst for knowledge otherwise known as masochism. Some I’ve passed, some I’ve failed (I’ve never been an academic high flyer), some were before children, some were after. The final FRCA was my nemesis for a long time. Michael Jordan, Basketball Player Extraordinaire, once said “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life…. and that is why I succeed”. Failing an exam gave me plenty of food for thought and it was an opportunity to learn about what I could do differently in future (although it’s clearly a learning opportunity I would probably have chosen to skip given the chance). My failed attempts when working for my final FRCA eventually provided me with the insight required to know how I’d do things differently for my FFICM revision. I had added a third child to the brood but I was determined not to let this exam also be a prolonged and torturous experience. I can’t tell anyone how to go about passing the exams, no one size fits all but the best advice I have is to try and speak to someone who has been through the situation most similar to yourself and find out what tips and hints they might have. It is the advice most likely to feel relevant to your own position and they may also be able to provide ongoing support (and viva practice – don’t keep putting it off)!
I would be doing myself and others a disservice if I pretended going through dual training with a young family has been easy but what has been required is dogged determination rather than any kind of superpower. As the finishing line starts to come into sight and my exam days are behind me I can confidently say the struggles have all been worth it. I work in specialties that I love with lovely colleagues, a fabulous reward at the end of a rocky path.
Doctors in training can feel like perpetual temporary members of staff who are continually trying to prove themselves worthy of positive feedback at the end of their placement whilst also trying to study for exams and complete all the annual paperwork required to smoothly transition from one year to the next. Add COVID into the mix and we have the perfect storm for high stress levels and struggling doctors. If you feel like you’re struggling then please seek out someone you trust to speak to, you’re not alone.
Dr Catriona Felderhof is dual registrar in Anaesthesia and ICM and the Deputy Trainee Representative on the FICM Board. Outside of work Cartiona loves to take her family out to enjoy the stunning Scottish scenery by dragging them up a hill or out for a walk, she also plays the violin.