This Doctor Can: Can we fix it? Yes, we can

Dr Simon Fleming talks about his determination to become a doctor, despite the odds.

I write to you from what I am aware is perceived to be a position of privilege. I am very mindful that I come from a white, middle class background, and that I went to a very good school in a very nice bit of a very nice city (well, I think so at least!).

At the time of writing this, A-level results have just come out and Twitter is awash with people celebrating their academic success. Those that were less successful are noticeably and understandably quiet.

I would have been one of the quiet ones.

It’s fair to say that I did not do as well as I had hoped in my A-levels. I experienced that kick to the stomach brought about by perceived failure, the one that you will so vividly recount if you’ve ever felt it yourself. Despite this, I still felt the compulsion to fight for my place at medical school.

However, in the interview, I vividly remember having an answer for the ‘why do you want to be a doctor’ question that just seemed… wrong. It wasn’t a lie, but it felt really superficial. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I am sure it was along the lines of: ‘I like science and I want to help people’.

I was going to be a doctor. I knew I needed to be a doctor. I just couldn’t put my finger on why.

Dr Simon Fleming, trauma and orthopaedic registrar

Yet, when I got my A-level results and my school told me that I had been ‘romanticising’ about the idea of being a doctor, I told my very good school, in my very nice city, exactly where they could stick it.

I was going to be a doctor. I knew I needed to be a doctor. I just couldn’t put my finger on why.

In fact, it’s taken years to work out why.

I’ve never really fitted in. Not at school, not at medical school, nor as a doctor. I talk too much. I am undeniably a pain in the ass (for my friends, family and faculty alike). I ask the difficult questions and I can’t help but speak up when something looks or feels wrong.

So it’s only in recent years I worked out why I became a doctor and why I still want to be one. It’s because I need to fix things. Things that can’t fix themselves. When I was younger, it was 'sick people', those people who need the help of a doctor to help them mend.

Then, later, in my role as a trainee orthopaedic surgeon, it was bones. People came in broken and they walked out repaired… ‘fixed’. Able to get back to living and life. Recently, however, it’s been culture – I can use my ability to be a voice for those who don’t feel they can speak up.

Grandiose as it sounds, I would quite like to try to fix healthcare. Although I don’t expect I will, I really fancy trying, and I hope that maybe, some of the talking will start some real conversations that do make things a bit better.

I failed my A-levels, was told to quit, but I knew I had some things to fix.

I failed to get my first choice of foundation job and was told I’d never be a surgeon, but I knew I had some things to fix.

I failed my membership of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS) and was told I’d never get into orthopaedics, but I knew I had some things to fix.

Now, I’m a trauma and orthopaedic registrar spending as much time as possible trying to get people to talk about things like bullying, undermining, harassment, equality and diversity.

Because sometimes, when you’ve got something to fix, you have to overcome a few failures, have some tough conversations and even tougher chats with yourself and decide… can I fix it? Yes, I can.

Would you like to share your experience of becoming a doctor? Get in touch on Twitter via @thisdoctorcan