Gwilym Thomas, MB, Medicine (2015)

Cambridge graduates enter a wide range of careers but making a difference tops their career wish lists. In this series, inspiring graduates from the last three years describe Cambridge, their current work and their determination to give back.

My time at Cambridge proved so many of my preconceptions about primary care wrong.

Gwilym Thomas, MB, Medicine (2015)
Gwilym Thomas (Trinity Hall), MB, Medicine (2015)
I graduated from Cambridge’s Medicine course in 2015 and I’m now working as a second year GP trainee, having already completed two years of post-qualification foundation training.
I’m currently based in A&E at the West Suffolk Hospital where my focus is on providing timely care and deciding whether someone can then return home or needs to be admitted for on-going treatment.
Junior doctors like me rotate jobs every four to six months so there is constant variety. Prior to A&E, I was working on a Care of the Elderly ward. I hope to be a GP within two to three years and during that time continue my involvement with Primary Care research. 
My Motivation
I’m inspired by the positive impact I can make on the lives of patients and their families as part of a multidisciplinary team. I get particular satisfaction from taking a holistic approach, one of the tenets of GP training. 
When I started at Cambridge, General Practice was near the bottom of my list of career options. I felt it might be repetitive and lacking in intellectual rigour, but actual experience completely changed my mind. In primary care I had such enthusiastic GP tutors and saw how embracing not just the biological but also psychological and social aspects of a patient’s problem could lead to better outcomes. 
On the flipside, the biggest challenges I face are the long hours, difficult decisions and emotional challenges inherent in the job, alongside the wider issues in the NHS and social care.
What Cambridge did for me
The Cambridge medical course is founded on core science which is later developed during clinical training, which seemed to match my learning style. In unfamiliar situations I can often problem-solve from first principles due to this sound scientific basis. It has also made me familiar with critically appraising evidence and that helps my clinical decision-making.
I discovered the world of primary care research, almost by accident, through Student Selected Components (SSC). Professor Jonathan Mant was my supervisor on my first Primary Care related SSC, which took me to the interface between stroke rehab in the hospital and community. Later, he encouraged me to submit an abstract to the Society for Academic Primary Care (SAPC) regional conference, and presenting there made me very enthusiastic about academic Primary Care. Professor Martin Roland, Dr Charlotte Paddison and Dr Katie Saunders supervised me on my second SSC in the Primary Care Unit. They gave me a lot of support to present again at SAPC, locally and nationally, and to publish the paper with which I won a Royal College of General Practitioners research prize in 2016.
My time at Cambridge proved so many of my preconceptions about primary care wrong. I soon learnt that GPs must use their clinical and diagnostic skills to make diagnoses, or deal with uncertainty, with fewer resources than available in hospital. I found there are also opportunities to develop specialist interests. My clinical placements were in various specialties and locations which helped me learn to integrate rapidly into a team and give me an insight into my eventual career plans. I also received really effective teaching in communication skills, which I continue to develop as a GP trainee.
During my 4th and 5th years, I spent several weeks with the practice team at Nene Valley Medical Practice in Peterborough, and that longitudinal placement really inspired and helped me to become a GP. During my elective in Scotland I received a lot of support and great advice from the anaesthetic department at Lorn and Islands Hospital in Oban. The short time I spent at the small, two-GP, Easdale Medical Practice, on the Isle of Seil also inspired me a great deal. Since graduating, the GPs at both Guildhall and Barrow Surgery in Bury St Edmunds, and the Grove Surgery in Thetford have been really supportive, friendly and knowledgeable. West Suffolk Hospital has been a good place to train as a junior doctor.
Applying to Cambridge
I grew up in Shepshed, a village in Leicestershire, and went to school in Loughborough. I was fortunate in having university-educated parents and in attending a school where Oxbridge applications were encouraged. But during my teenage years I had a lot of time out of school due to illness – I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. I had to restart my GCSE year and, prior to returning, my head teacher advised me that either medicine or Oxbridge might be a realistic goal but, concerned for my health and welfare, they told me it might be best not to aim for both. I doubt they know how much that drove me to prove them wrong! 
Crohn’s made the rest of school and the start of university a battle but I was open on my application about my illness and the potential for things to go wrong. I spoke to the University’s Disability Resource Centre team at an open day and my College also made me aware of all the support available if I needed it, which fortunately I rarely did. I did, however, receive targeted financial support via a Disabled Student's Allowance which made a huge difference to my confidence when I started at Cambridge. I have been in remission for some time now but being in some situations as both a patient and relative does, I think, help me approach things more holistically as a doctor.
It is really important with a medical degree to consider the course structure. While the traditional model at Cambridge suited me, it may not match everyone’s learning style. As for choosing a college, I didn't know where to start so decided to visit a shortlist on open day. I settled on Trinity Hall, where I felt most at home, a decision I’ve never regretted.

Find out more

For more information about studying Medicine at Cambridge.
Find out more about General Practice as a career.

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