In Conversation With...geriatric registrar Dan Sommer
After welcoming our new intake of junior doctors last week (all 236 of them!), we thought we’d speak to someone who’s been there and got the T-shirt, Dan Sommer, a geriatric medicine registrar, who’s keen to be a friendly face and support our new arrivals.
Lives: In Islington with partner Gareth and their dog Frank
And: Dan has certainly exceeded his parents’ expectations after his first ever teacher told then he was a ‘plodder who wouldn’t amount to much’!
Given lots of new young doctors have just joined our Trust, can you remember how it felt when you were in their shoes?
Yes really well! Not knowing where things are or how things works can mean you lack confidence.
What I also remember is my seniors, some were great and some not so much. That’s what’s made me want to do what I can to help our new junior doctors, so they know that there are friendly faces who are happy to support them.
One of my colleagues went along to their induction and we’ve also been seeking them out to let them know we’re here to help and that they can come to us.
I remember my very first day as a doctor, it felt like I was playing some weird video game where everything I learned at medical school was thrown back at me in unexpected ways and everything happened differently than expected. Calling for help was like using your lifelines! I had all the knowledge, but had to learn how to apply it in a different context.
Had you always wanted to be a doctor?
My parents told me I wanted to be a doctor since I was a toddler. Apparently I would entertain residents in my great-grandmother’s residential home, and I really liked our GP! I don’t remember any of this.
It wasn’t until I was around 16 that I remember wanting to be a doctor. I was good at science and my teacher suggested I do my work experience in medicine. I did it at a GP surgery and my local hospital and found I really like it – so I applied to medical school.
I grew up in Manchester and moved south to go to Oxford University. I never went home afterwards as most of my friends had moved to London.
What was medical school like?
It was a nice atmosphere and I made lots of friends and felt really well supported. It was really tough too and was the first time in my life that I didn’t feel smart. I’d done well at school; however at university everyone was that student who’d been top of the class at school.
I did my placements all over in Milton Keynes, High Wycombe and Oxford and really loved being in the hospitals and talking to real people. That was when it first struck me how important your words are as a doctor, people cling to what you say and place their trust in you, without you really having to earn it – you’ve got it in the title. It’s a big responsibility.
I went straight into work at Charing Cross Hospital after medical school and I also worked at the Royal Free before joining our Trust a year ago.
I’m now half-way through my final five years before becoming a consultant, and while it can’t come soon enough, I also can’t believe how fast it’s gone.
What made you decide to specialise in Geriatrics?
Older people are the most interesting patients, not just for the variety of conditions they have, but also because they’ve had such rich, full lives.
Many of my patients have lived through so much history and I love speaking to them about their lives.
I remember one patient who was a prima ballerina in her prime and told me great stories about performing all over the world. I looked her up on the internet and she was quite famous in her day.
Many have also lived through wars and told me stories about crossing borders to get to safety, including one who hid behind a book case with his little brother for 18 months.
What’s the best thing about being a doctor?
Helping people and their families come to terms with what’s going on. In geriatric medicine particularly, we can’t always cure everything and it’s about helping patients and their relatives to understand that and to live the best life they can in the time they have left.
When I was first starting out, it was more difficult when my patients died. I’m more philosophical about it now, everyone dies and lots of people die in hospital. Sometimes your job is to help someone to have as good a death as possible, and you often find the patient is at peace with it, it’s their family who struggle.
End of life care is really important and we have a really good Palliative Care team. Doing right by our patients at the end of their lives is really important, and I take pride in it.
What do you get up to outside work?
I love going to the theatre to see anything, small plays, West End shows, musicals.
We recently brought a flat in Margate and spend weekends there, it’s really nice to be at the seaside. And I’m a bit of a foodie and love trying new restaurants.
I visit my family often in Manchester and they come here. I’m the first in my family to go to university so they’re really proud of me. They weren’t expecting much from me, after the teacher at my first parents’ evening said I was a plodder and wouldn’t make much of myself. I was four!
And our favourite question of In Conversation With… do you have any pets?
We’ve had our British Bulldog Frank since he was a puppy, he’s two now. They say pets change your life and he really has for the better, he gives unconditional love and it’s lovely when he welcomes you home at night, or when you first come down in the morning and he’s so pleased to see you.