Today, marks World Cancer Day. A day that unites people, communities and entire countries to raise awareness of cancer and take action. Each year, there are an average of 17 million new cancer cases worldwide. To raise awareness, we’ve spoken with Dr Veersamy, a Consultant Clinical Oncologist within the NHS. Dr Veersamy shares his experience of caring for patients with cancer and his experience working within the pandemic.
Hello Dr Veersamy! Could you please start by introducing yourself? Your grade, specialty and country you relocated from?
Hi! I’m a Clinical Oncologist currently working at Milton Keynes University Hospital and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust. I relocated from South Africa in 2018 to join the NHS and start a new life with my family.
What were your reasons for wanting to relocate to the UK and join the NHS?
I studied medicine to help people and working within the private sector in South Africa meant that I couldn’t help everyone due to their insurance status or financial background. I love that the NHS treats absolutely everyone and anyone regardless of your background or wealth.
The UK is a culturally diverse place, safe and has plenty to offer. I’m very happy here.
What was your motivation to be a doctor?
Unsurprisingly, my father wished for me to become a doctor. That being said, I love my job and wouldn’t change it for the world.
Why did you choose to specialise in Oncology?
I didn’t always plan on specialising in Clinical Oncology. Initially, I planned to specialise in Surgery and I was well on my way to becoming a General Surgeon… and then my daughter was born. Surgery is a very intense specialty and I was working 12-13 hours a day which meant it was difficult to see my family. I knew I was only going to have one child and so, I didn’t want to miss out on anything.
I considered other specialties that took my interest and I thought back to when I was on the Paediatric Surgery ward where we were giving chemotherapy which I had a huge interest in. For this reason, I decided to change my specialism to Clinical Oncology as it has a fairer work-life balance. Clinical Oncology is largely clinic based and any on-calls you can do by phone and so, you can stay at home with your loved ones.
What was your experience of obtaining GMC Registration?
I was in the fortunate position where my South African post-graduate degree was recognised by the GMC. So, some years back I decided to come to the UK, get my GMC Registration, work as a locum to get some money and then travel around Europe. Since then, I’ve kept my GMC Registration as I knew I would always return to the UK permanently at one point.
Do you have any advice for junior doctors looking to become a Clinical Oncologist?
Don’t go into Oncology straight out of medical school. Emotionally, Oncology is not an easy job. So, my best advice is to try out other specialties first to build up your emotional strength. That being said, Oncology is an amazing specialty. Scientifically, it’s very interesting as it’s always changing and evolving. Oncology offers a lot of practical skills as you can see what’s working and what’s not working.
What’s your experience of working within the pandemic?
Initially, it was a very frustrating time because nobody knew the right thing to do and how to appropriately adjust our protocols. The questions revolved around whether we should temporarily shut our clinics to stop the spread of the virus or alternatively, reduce access to care. Gratefully, for the Oncology Department at my trusts, we haven’t cut any services.
The most difficult part of the pandemic is losing incredible staff and friends to the virus.
What’s your favourite thing about working within the NHS?
I don’t have to worry about the cost of treatment. The NHS is very much a team-effort organisation. There’s no hierarchy which means that there are no barriers between staff which provides a gateway for excellent communication. Yes, the NHS has got its issues but it offers world-class care for free.
How does working within the NHS differ compared to your previous healthcare system?
When I left South Africa, I was working in a private healthcare system and so, it was very different to the NHS. Prior to that, I had been working in a state healthcare setting and the main two differences are the hierarchal nature in South Africa and lack of government funding. In the NHS, everyone is equal and the system is entirely funded by the UK Government.
More systems should be like the NHS, it means everyone gets access to care.
How was your experience relocating to the UK?
It was all very smooth. In the first instance, I moved independently and stayed within hospital accommodation. I then went house hunting so, my family would have somewhere permanent to live when they arrived in the UK. It only took me two-weeks to get everything finalised and my family joined me.
The one difficulty I had was securing my daughter a school. My daughter came over with my wife in May and unfortunately, she didn’t start school until September. This was stressful but simultaneously, my wife is a teacher and so home-schooled her until a school place was available. I believe my experience is rare when it comes to securing schooling.
However, my daughter is now at a fantastic school that she absolutely loves.
What do you enjoy about living in the UK?
That I can go on a run with my daughter at 6pm and be safe. It took me some time to get used to the cold weather, but I soon got acclimatised.
What do you have planned for the future?
My long-term goal is to apply for CESR. However, because of the pandemic I’ve not been able to obtain certain experiences such as governance. That being said, my focus at this time is entirely patient care and so, long-term I will get CESR but I’m not in an urgent need for it at this moment in time.
What was your experience with ID Medical?
I had a fantastic experience with ID Medical. I sent an email noting that I was interested in joining the NHS and two-weeks later, I had an interview and secured an NHS job. I’m still working at the same job, three-years later.
Sudha from ID Medical was very supportive, always checking in and answering my questions. A truly brilliant experience.
I recommend ID Medical to all.
Thank you for your time Dr Veersamy. It was a pleasure speaking to you and thank you for the incredible work you do in fighting cancer each and every single day.