I am… back on the medical frontline
Susan Salt returns to medicine after ministry
In March 2019, after a 30-year career in medicine, I resigned from my post in palliative medicine. I voluntarily removed my name from the General Medical Council’s register and was ordained deacon in Blackburn Cathedral at the end of June of the same year.
Having wrestled for some time with God’s call to leave medicine behind and become a full-time stipendiary curate, I never imagined that a year later, in March 2020, I would find myself back on the medical register and returning to the hospital trust I left. Making the decision to return was not easy. It meant leaving my curacy in five rural parishes, and self isolating from my family, to reduce the risk to them. Returning to the trust where I had previously worked also meant negotiating the challenge of re-engaging with colleagues who knew me as a doctor.
Returning to frontline healthcare has on one level been straightforward. The computer system is as cranky as it always was. Colleagues have welcomed me with open arms, and it has been reassuring to walk familiar corridors, even if all the wards have changed. I have found myself drawing on both my pastoral and medical experience to be a listening ear to staff and patients as all of us navigate the impact of this pandemic. It has been a profoundly humbling and exhausting experience which continues to challenge and inspire in equal measure.
But finding ways to reflect on the current situation is incredibly difficult. The national narrative is framed around the metaphor of battle, with those on the frontline ‘heroes’, who, if they have sufficient resources and courage, will defeat the unseen enemy.
That narrative suggests that key workers are engaging with a frontline which is somehow distant from the rest of the community. It portrays key workers as invincible saviours who, even though stretched to the limit, will ultimately triumph. It implies that, with enough research and pooling of knowledge, we will defeat the virus and regain a sense of certainty about the world and our place in it. It is a narrative that has long been applied to cancer and other chronic illnesses, with the consequence that when death comes (as it will), it is seen as a defeat, the result of either the patient having ‘given up’ or the healthcare team not ‘doing enough’. The reality is different…
Susan Salt is a deacon and medical doctor serving in Lancashire
This is an extract from an article that was published in the June 2020 edition of Reform