An interview with Dr Paula De Sousa, Paediatric Registrar
Dr Paula is a Paediatric Registrar in Brighton. She is also a committee member of the International Child Health Group (ICHG) and leads the Global Health Mentorship scheme by the ICHG. She recently returned from working in Sierra Leone where she facilitated ETAT+ training and designed a new training package for paediatric healthcare professionals.
Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your career!
I’m Paula De Sousa, currently a paediatric trainee doctor in my 5th year of training. I was born in South Africa, Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), moved to Portugal and then went on to Nottingham university for medical school. I then decided to stay in Nottingham, doing my F1 in Derby and my F2 in Mansfield. In F2, I met my current boyfriend who’s an ophthalmology trainee. He moved to the Kent Surrey Sussex deanery and I followed him there. I then took a year out of training last year to go to Sierra Leone and still have 3 more years before I become a consultant.
Q: Why did you decide to go into Paediatrics?
Since I went into medicine, I’ve only ever wanted to do Paediatrics! I really enjoy working with children and families and I also think it’s a very general speciality, with many subspecialties within it and a lot of choice.
Now that I’m working in Paediatrics, what I enjoy the most and what keeps me going is how Paediatricians are huge advocates for children. Our roles are so much more than just looking at a child’s disease, but their wellbeing, social wellbeing, mental well-being and family dynamics too. Additionally, paediatricians have lots of power to support the families of the child, which is definitely not a common thing in other specialties.
Q: What does a typical day/week at work look like for you?
It’s definitely very varied. When we’re registrars, we’re pretty much on call most of the time and the hours vary depending on what job we’re doing. Some weeks we are on night shifts, while on others we’re on long days, starting at 8.30am and finishing at 9.30pm.
We also rotate through neonatal jobs which has a lot of on call days, compared to community paediatrics which is a lot more of a 9-5 job. In community paediatrics, we assess children on things such as developmental delay, autism and severe epilepsy that affects development.
Q: What are some of the most difficult parts of your job?
With any job, there are always less desirable things. I remember a consultant paediatrician once doing an amazing lecture, saying that the hours are long, but the minutes we have with families and children are precious. Things like keeping a portfolio and getting assessments signed off can be quite stressful and feel tickboxy at times. This really begins as a medical student, where there are lots of boxes to tick. However, I do understand that they are there for a reason, to make sure we are safe and held accountable for things we do.
It can also be tough to settle down as you have to move a lot during training. You may meet some amazing teams that you get along with, but as you start to really get used to things you have to move to another hospital. Your personal life and having children can also be delayed because of this.
Q: What are some of the favourite bits of your career?
Meeting really inspirational people, consultants that are amazing at their job and nurses, healthcare assistants and cleaners that inspire you. Finding these people along your career and learning from them is amazing. It’s also great to attend conferences, meet other doctors and be inspired by them.
Q: Can you tell me a little about your time in Sierra Leone?
I went to Sierra Leone with The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) last year for a year (cut short because of Covid). It was really an amazing experience and very different to anything I’d ever done.
Our main focus was in delivering education to the medical staff there. We worked with 2 Sierra Leonean nurses that were leads in teaching to deliver a program called ETAT +. My role was actually in developing a new teaching package called care of the critically ill child. ETAT+ looks at the initial assessment, triage and the management of children, while the care of the critically ill child package looks beyond that to support nurses with the ongoing management of critically ill children. Besides this, we also did clinical mentoring in the Resus department at a Children's hospital. A highlight of the trip was definitely meeting the amazing doctors and nurses that worked in this hospital, being inspired by them and learning from them.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring medical students and Paediatricians?
If you want to do it, you enjoy working with children and families and you enjoy advocacy, paediatrics is definitely the right thing for you! Paediatrics isn’t really a specialty you just fall into. Most people that are in Paediatrics know firmly that they want to do it, which is probably why you meet such inspiring Paediatricians! If you want to do it, start preparing early and don’t be afraid!
Medical school and Paediatrics can feel like you are on treadmill, with a very long training program that you can’t step off. However, it’s important to realise that you actually can step off and take one or two years out. It can even be important in making yourself a better paediatrician or doctor! Even if it’s after school, between med school, or between F2 and ST1.
Another tip would also be to get involved in societies in med school, which are getting better and better. There are many opportunities out there! The many lists of societies can be quite intimidating when you start university, but you’ll only know how they are if you try them out.
In Paediatrics at the moment there’s a lot of focus on trying to make the training better. When students start reading and hearing about the training, they can sometimes feel discouraged as its common knowledge that paediatricians can be stressed and burnt out. However, the RCPCH is doing a lot to improve this. They have a “vision for 2040” report coming out in the next few weeks on how to improve paediatric training and wellbeing. A lot of work is behind it and I really hope this changes the reputation of Paediatric training, so as to create more amazing paediatricians!
Q: If you could do it all over again, would you have gone down the same career path?
Yes! I would still have done paediatrics. However, since I have an interest in global child health, I might have wanted to be a little bit more academic. Although I enjoy the clinical side of things, when it comes to long term and family planning it’s more difficult to do clinical things as compared to academic things.
Contact Dr Paula at firstname.lastname@example.org