Medicine, psychiatry and research; my 2 weeks at UCL

By Alan Kowalski

If you don’t know, you can probably guess – getting into medical school is hard! Hopeful applicants (like myself) apply to every opportunity they see and hope for the best in terms of being accepted onto the placement because that’s just a necessity nowadays.

In2Science was no different.

“Looks good!” I said to myself when I first spotted the scheme. After writing an application and eagerly awaiting the response – I was accepted and later received a 2-week placement at UCL’s division of psychiatry where I would be shadowing Dr Suzanne Reeves.

When I first learnt that Suzanne is a Consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer with a current focus on controlling psychosis in dementia patients, I felt privileged to be shadowing such an astute individual. Not only was Suzanne astute, though, she’s also one of the most friendly, helpful and supportive people I’ve met. She went miles above expectation to ensure that my visit would be amazing by frantically organising one-on-one meetings with PhD qualified researchers, care home visits, days in a memory clinic and so much more that the 500 stops me from talking about – shout out to Suzanne for all her effort!

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Some of the people in the divisional team

So, dementia itself can be caused by an imbalance of dopamine in the brain and it’s a rather broad term with the likes of Alzheimer’s being one form of it. Strokes can too sometimes play a part where a specific dementia can occur – vascular dementia; parts of the brain are subject to ischaemic attacks and subsequently infarcts form.  Dementia is, of course, incurable as of now, however, projects are being led to manage and improve lives of the people affected.

Managing Agitation and Raising QUality of lifE (MARQUE for short) is one of these projects and one I got to see first-hand. It’s a project aiming to increase knowledge about dementia, agitation and personhood. I saw the research in action when data was being collected at a care home; I realised that research is tough and demanding, but can also be so rewarding. Sometimes even hundreds of care homes need to be subject to data collection to accumulate enough useful data. The whole experience reassured me, though, that research seems amazing as a career but can even be combined with being a medic, something that tempts me very much.

When shadowing Suzanne in clinic, a negative yet invaluable highlight was an elderly lady finding out she has dementia. It wasn’t joyous but those are the realities of medicine – with anything comes the good and the bad. Bettering lives is rewarding but delivering bad information (i.e. diagnoses) is a less pleasing aspect but something that has to be done, something the experience made me very aware of and a thing that any aspiring doctor has to know.

Overall, the placement was priceless. Would I do it again? Yes! Thank you so much to the UCL division of psychiatry team for having me.