This month, with World Humanitarian Day marked on 19th August, we’re celebrating our members and the teams they worked alongside all over the world. Surgeon Stephen Chadwick shares his story of how his long and varied career led him to join the UK- Med team- and how he has found it so far.
“My friends and colleagues are envious of the change of direction and extension to my career.”
In 1990 I was appointed Consultant Surgeon to Northwick Park Hospital in General Surgery, and since then I have developed my lifelong passion for surgery. Based at St Mark’s Hospital, from general and vascular surgery to colorectal surgery I have had a fortunate and extensive career in various parts of the world- including the Caribbean, Sub Saharan Africa, USA and British Columbia. I have also been invited on academic and educational visits to Hong Kong, USA and Canada, and leading academic institutions in Europe as well as the UK.
I surpassed my own expectations of career longevity but three years ago an old eye injury forced some time of reflection. During this quiet time (holiday and convalescence) I read the surgical journals cover to cover. I found one short paragraph describing UK-Med. Perhaps, tongue in cheek I emailed to ask if they could use the services of a wrinkly, and a few days later they called me.
Shortly after that I found myself grossly under prepared in a freezing meadow camping in a single person tent. I remember being so cold and uncomfortable I did not sleep for three nights. I mistakenly believed that I would be accommodated in the Officers mess and so wore- on the first night under canvas in more than 40 years – my pyjamas. (At this point, I should reiterate my apologies to those campers whose tents were next to mine for my first mornings exit from the tent rear end first!).
UK-Med has certainly shaped the last two years of my life. For a start I lost a fair bit of weight. I have attempted to grow a beard. I now own long johns and long-sleeved vests. I have read widely on the development of humanitarian aid and taken a number of online courses. I attend relevant university open lectures. I recently returned to the NHS as a junior doctor, for three months, in the Emergency Department and the Obstetrics Unit. I try to attend all the courses and meetings UK-Med invite me to, for example the recent and excellent Nutrition and Conflict Affected Areas Training courses. UK-Med has undoubtedly stimulated me to revisit my other early passion- anthropology.
My friends and colleagues are envious of the change of direction and extension to my career. They see the outdoorsy component but have little comprehension of the other parts required for association with a humanitarian aid organisation. This is understandable because it is only in the last 15 to 20 years that humanitarian aid has grown into the substantive system it is now. And now, at this point in my life and career, I am in the position to be able to respond at short notice to a Sudden Onset Disaster.