17 June 2019

My UEA Story: Will Brown

Norwich Medical School Alumni

Will Brown, Specialty Registrar, Neurology (Graduated 2009)

One of the big advantages of Norwich Medical School is the early patient contact which allows you to put into practice what you've been taught a few days before.

What were your career aspirations when you joined UEA?

I had always wanted to be a doctor (my careers advisor suggested I was too tall for my alternative choice, being a fighter jet pilot; it transpires this may not have been entirely true!). Within medicine, I think it's almost impossible to know what subspecialty to follow until you've experienced it as a medical student or junior doctor; many of my 'die-hard surgeon' friends quickly changed path once they'd done a surgical job, so prospective medical students shouldn't worry if, like most of their compatriots, they don't yet know.

How did you get to where you are now? 

Following graduation six years ago, I did junior jobs in Norwich, King's Lynn and Cambridge. As part of an academic training programme in neurology, I'm currently undertaking a PhD at Cambridge University, running the first human trial of a drug aiming to reverse disability in multiple sclerosis. This is a far cry from the 17 year old that left a Norfolk state school with a string of Bs at A-level and not much else.

Oddly, I think the things that have really helped me have been where I've struggled, because I've learned how to technically solve problems, but also learned to ask whether a problem is worth solving, where to seek help and how to cope with the journey. I think Norwich Medical School is unsurpassed in this regard: there is no spoon-feeding. While there are plenty of lectures and seminars covering key issues, you are generally encouraged to go about the learning process yourself. This is vital in medicine, as medical school can only teach you an absolute minority of what you actually need to practice medicine, and you have to pick up the remainder on your own.

The best thing about my job is... 

The patients. 

The biggest challenge in my job is...

The patients.

What does it take to do your job? 

I think the single most important virtue of any doctor is empathy. If you are able to put yourselves in someone else's shoes, regardless of how tired, upset or even angry you are, and regardless of how rude or unreasonable they might appear to be, you'll always do the right thing. If a patient, relative or colleague appears to be unreasonable, there's always a reason behind it.

I remember preparing for my medical school interviews and learning an answer to this question, and it hasn't really changed very much: empathy, taking pleasure from the company of others, a deep wish to understand how the body functions and dysfunctions, and a profound sense of satisfaction from helping people. A word to the wise - if you wish to do medicine for money or reputation, you will be bitterly disappointed.

What do you think sets you apart from your colleagues?

I viewed most of my classmates at UEA with envy as they seemed to pick things up far more quickly than I did, but stubbornly refusing to give up seems to be working out for the time being! 

What personal achievement are you most proud of? 

Persuading my wife to marry me.

How did UEA prepare you for your career/help you make decisions?

Norwich Medical School remains unique: unlike most other medical schools which force-feed students loads of unnecessary information, UEA prepares you to be a junior doctor, and a cracking one at that. It teaches you how to learn medicine in addition to teaching the medicine itself, a vital life-long skill as learning continues throughout your career. 

Since leaving UEA, have you taken any further qualifications? 

I am currently undertaking a PhD in clinical neuroscience at Cambridge University and the Institute of Neurology, London. I also undertook a postgraduate certificate in medical education at UEA and hold membership of the Royal College of Physicians. 

What made you decide to study your particular course? 

I'm fascinated by how the body functions and dysfunctions, and how we can manipulate it with therapies. Medicine allows me to immerse myself in this, and learn about new things every day. I enjoy the company of others, and gain a lot of satisfaction from helping patients and relatives who are often having a really difficult time. Medicine combines these threads, has good job prospects after graduating and allows me to work with some cracking people. 

My best day at UEA was... 

One of the big advantages of Norwich Medical School is the early patient contact which allows you to put into practice what you've been taught a few days before (rather than, like many other medical schools, waiting for a few years). Thus, we were talking to patients within our first week of medical school.

I think my most memorable day was two months into first year - we were in a GP surgery and I was asked to go and speak to someone in their own home who had recently been bereaved. It seemed a strange request, given there was no disease to diagnose and no treatment to consider; but it was one of the most profound and harrowing experiences of my training, highlighting how easy it can be to focus on the disease rather than those it affects and illustrating the importance of looking after family.