When I talk to my clients and my peers in medical research, one thing always stands out to me: we all got into this because we wanted to help. I’ve never met anyone who chose this career for any other reason.
This shared goal of wanting to do good in the world is one of the reasons I love my work so much. Every day I am surrounded by others who are working hard to make the world a better place. No matter our background or belief system, everyone is here for the same reason.
This got me thinking about all the reasons I chose this career. I’ve written before about my journey from health researcher to statistics coach, but I’ve never written about why I chose a career in healthcare in the first place.
1. A lifelong fascination with health research
As cheesy as it sounds, I’ve always been interested in health. It’s always grabbed me. When I was growing up and reading newspapers or magazines, it would be the health news that I was interested in. I wanted to read everything that was being written about new data, new approaches, and new ways of thinking about health.
My mum’s a healthcare assistant in the NHS, so I think a lot of it was picked up from her. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been surrounded by people who knew the value of good healthcare. I just found it really really important, and this became one of my core values.
2. My childhood love of maths
When I was at school, I was always really good at maths. It was the thing that I gravitated towards and enjoyed doing. I was lucky that it came naturally to me. I decided early on that maths was something I wanted to study.
I remember hearing people say “if you do a maths degree then you can do whatever you like, there’s so many options!” But whenever I asked those people “so, what exactly could I do?”, the only answer I got was to be an accountant or a teacher. They weren’t the things I wanted to do.
So I always found a huge disparity between people saying “maths is great!” and feeling like there weren’t very many career opportunities in it – certainly none that appealed to me. I spent so much time telling people that I wished there was something I could do that was both health and maths. I just couldn’t see a way to marry those two things together.
For quite a long time I wanted to be a midwife because it seemed like a way that I could do good in the world. (Plus I’ve always loved babies which is probably why I’ve had 3!) But I still wanted to do something maths-based. So even though midwifery was in the healthcare field, it didn’t feel quite right. I kept looking out for a career that would allow me to do the two things that I really loved.
3. The university module that sparked it all
I ended up going to university and studying maths, thinking “there must be a way that you can use maths in a hospital because they’d have so much data”. Then one day, when I was picking my modules, I noticed one titled ‘medical statistics’.
I remember thinking here was something that brought together those two things that I loved the most – I had just never heard of it before. It was a whole field! People had been having careers in it for a long time! I went to the computer lab (because in the dark days when I was at uni nobody had their own computer) and spent ages on the Royal Statistical Society website soaking up everything I could find about what I’d already decided was going to be my future career.
I very excitedly signed up for this module, and before I’d even started it, I’d applied to do a Masters in Medical Statistics. I was quite nervous starting that module – I really hoped I would like it now I’d already decided it was perfect for me!
As they say, the rest is history! I’ve continued doing this ever since that day when I discovered the world of medical statistics. I’ve never looked back.
(As a side note: I’ve done lots of career talks etc at schools to try and raise awareness of this as a career option in the hope that I’ll spark interest in some other young mathematician, and I’m really hopeful that a positive to come out of COVID-19 is that more people will now be aware of medical research as a career path)
4. The personal stories
Like many, I also have some more personal stories that have made me want to improve healthcare for everyone.
At the age of 21, I lost a close friend of mine to cancer. Then, in 2006 my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was young and very healthy – certainly not someone I would have expected to get cancer. It was around the same time that Kylie Minogue was diagnosed and had been talking in interviews about how she had discovered a lump. This information led my aunt to get checked out.
A little later on, motivated by my aunt’s diagnosis, I decided to study my PhD in breast cancer to understand more about the disease. I found out that, far from her diagnosis being unexpected, she actually fit the stereotypical profile of an at-risk person. This type of disease is really common but we’ve still got so much to learn about it.
Unfortunately my aunt also passed away quite a few years ago now. These stories are real personal motivators for me wanting to do this.
5. The privilege of doing my bit
If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need impactful health research now more than ever. We need to be able to turn out vaccinations and treatments and find out who’s at risk. We need all of these things that we’ve been doing for years, and we need to keep pushing forward to do them as well as we possibly can.
I feel like I’m in a really privileged position as a medical statistician. I can do my bit and create positive change with the research that I do.
But I can also help all of my clients to have a huge impact in lots of different areas. I can start off a ripple effect that just gets bigger and bigger as a result of the work I do. It feels amazing to be able to do that – to put some good into the world and help people to be happy and healthy.
Are you a health researcher looking for a supportive community of like-minded women?
In the Health Researcher Clubhouse, myself and my colleague Isabelle Fielding are building a network of health researchers who want to learn and support one another to reach their goals and make a positive change in the world.
It’s our privilege to support you by providing video training, networking opportunities, co-working sessions, and loads more. For a limited time, you can access the Clubhouse for a special early bird discount and be one of the founding members of the group.
To find out more and to reserve your place, just click here.
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