When the pandemic struck last year, Sabine Coates (OE2007-14), was a final year medical student at Bristol University. The scale of the crisis and the pressure it put on the NHS meant that Sabine and many others in her cohort graduated six months early to join the frontline of the fight against Covid-19.

Here, she tells us about her journey to become a junior doctor and her experience of starting work during a national healthcare crisis.

Did you always know you wanted to go into medicine?

Not at all! Up until the end of GCSEs, I thought I wanted to go into media and be an artistic director or producer. I never felt I was clever enough to even consider going in to medicine.

The real turning point for me was my mum who at the time had done an Access course and was in her first year studying midwifery. Not only was I immensely proud of her, but I found the content fascinating. I considered midwifery but realised I was eager to learn more about medicine and surgery as a whole with a greater understanding of the science behind decisions, knowing that whichever area I found most fascinating there would be a speciality for me.

I therefore re-shuffled my A level options. I kept Maths and Geography and swapped Spanish and Art for Chemistry and Maths.

Please can you summarise your career to date?

I achieved an MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery) as well as a BSc in Childhood Studies from the University of Bristol. My graduation, which took place via Zoom, was brought forward by six months to March 2020 so that I could start working as a junior doctor to help with the demands of the pandemic.

So far, I have been a doctor in geriatrics, general surgery, diabetes and endocrinology and cardiology. Next year, I will be rotating through emergency medicine, general practice and otolaryngology.

I hope to have a career in paediatrics with a special interest in global health. I have been involved in some research in Bwindi, Uganda, and would love to be able to see more projects like this one through.

What is your current role and which hospital do you work at?

I am a foundation year 1 doctor at Salisbury District Hospital and currently work on the cardiology ward. I get tested a lot and learn a lot every day. It’s great.

Each day I do a ward round and am then responsible for jobs like requesting scans, discussing cases with other specialities or writing discharge summaries for all of the patients on the ward. I am regularly on call and work one in three to four weekends. Time absolutely flies each day; I can’t believe I have already been a doctor for a year.

Please can you talk about your role during the last year and the challenges you have faced due to the pandemic?

I started as a junior doctor at a time of uncertainty. The most difficult aspect was the limited ability to become united as a cohort with my junior doctor colleagues. With no opportunity to socialise and get to know each other, it has felt lonely at times.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

As healthcare professionals, each day we are able to develop huge rapport with so many patients who open up about absolutely everything. For that I am hugely privileged and am able to understand the lives of so many people (which is great because deep down I am really nosey).

What advice would you give to Emanuel students who aspire to a career in medicine?

Try to be as sure as you can that you are passionate about science and learning new things because the hours are tough. It’s often tough when all your friends are at the pub on a Saturday and you’re getting bleeped about a paracetamol prescription, but if you genuinely love the learning then it won’t matter. Just be aware that being a doctor isn’t your standard 9-5.

Communication is key. It is the number one skill used in absolutely everything as a doctor. While studying is important to rake in those A*’s, keep yourself well-rounded in whatever activities and friendship circles you have in order to continue developing your communication skills.

What are your best memories of Emanuel? 

I have so many amazing memories and genuinely believe I couldn’t have had a better school experience. I loved the lunches where my friends and I would go up for seconds and thirds every single day (gone are the days of such fast metabolisms). The sixth form café was brought alive by Joyce and it was such a pleasure to see her joyful face every day. We are so lucky to have had such a beautiful chapel in the school and I loved singing my heart out to hymns each week. We are also very fortunate to have had the opportunity to go on incredible school trips; the trip to Sri Jayendra in Kerala was wholly encompassing and unforgettable.

Did any teachers at Emanuel influence you in life or your career path?

My Maths teacher, Mr Marriot, was such a kind and supportive teacher. My Chemistry teachers, Mr Rodgers, Dr Bruce and Miss Malik hugely encouraged me when I lacked the confidence to choose chemistry for A level whilst Mr Layng and Mr Labinjo, my Biology teachers, greatly influenced my academic interests and helped me to get where I am today.

What are you proudest of from your time at Emanuel?

I think I am proudest of the friends I have made. I am still incredibly close to all of my friends and speak to so many of them on a day-to-day basis. We have all ended up pursuing completely different career paths and I think Emanuel provided ample opportunity for each of us to participate in valuable extra-curricular activities that have most likely got us to where we are today. I feel that says a lot to about the lessons a school teaches you about respect, honesty, openness and life values.

Which clubs and activities did you get involved in at Emanuel?

I was never the best sportsman but I threw myself into netball, rounders, athletics and rowing – and loved them all. My favourite subject at GCSE was art and while not a club or activity as such, I loved the encouragement and the excuse to visit art galleries each weekend for new inspiration.

Above, left: U13A rounders (second from left in the back row)
Above, right: Senior 2nd netball (back row, far right)

What’s something you might say to your former self if you came across yourself in the school playground? 

Pull your skirt down! Have a little bit more self-belief and be proud of yourself (although I still try to say this to myself now).

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I try to stay as active as possible not only to stay relatively fit but mostly for my wellbeing. I am in a good routine of going for a swim or to the gym before work at the moment. I play tennis each week and have set up netball for the doctors.

I make time for some creativity each week too and have acquired a fantastic collection of watercolours, oil paints, a clay set and calligraphy pens over lockdown!