April 20, 2017, by studentcontributor

On placement in psychiatry and running the London Marathon

Running for Heads TogetherDan Townley, one of our final-year graduate entry medical students, describes his placement in psychiatry and shares how it motivated him to run the London Marathon to help raise awareness of mental health issues. 


I felt a little unsure about what to expect from my placement in psychiatry – perceptions undoubtedly shaped by my limited experience and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. However, with an open mind and willingness to engage I found myself amongst a team of health professionals committed to helping patients with a range of psychopathologies.

Something I noticed on placement was that people were afraid to admit they had been struggling with their mental health prior to their acute admission to hospital. One common reason for this was fear of prejudice and judgement from others. Seeing close hand how this can destroy families and end lives has been a real driving force in raising both awareness and funds for Heads Together. The Heads Together campaign wants to help people feel much more comfortable with their everyday mental wellbeing and have practical tools to support their friends and family.

On placement in Lincoln

My placement was based in Lincoln, one of the satellite sites for Nottingham medics. Each week students are assigned to different patients presenting with common psychopathology – including patients diagnosed with mood disorders and psychosis. This was a very helpful way to bring together knowledge and clinical presentation. Central teaching takes place in Nottingham each week where ideas and learning from different placements are brought together. Different sites offer different speciality interests so this effectively standardises the learning experience.

I spent a significant amount of time talking to patients about their symptoms – this was very challenging at times and I still remember some of the patients who shared their life stories with me. I found one-to-one supervisions with your assigned consultant a helpful way to talk through the more challenging cases. Although a very challenging placement I feel being pushed outside of my comfort zone will inevitably make me a much better doctor in the coming months. (If you’re interested in learning more about a career in psychiatry please check out next month’s Student BMJ’s where I interview five psychiatrists about their varied careers.)

London Marathon

In many respects I ended up with a place in this year’s London marathon by chance. A group of friends, all keen runners, encouraged me to apply for a ballot place. With the odds stacked against me I submitted my application form not expecting to hear anything back. It was during my final year surgical attachment in Kingsmill Hospital, Mansfield, the letter arrived; congratulations! I was shocked to hear the random draw had only gone in my favour amongst my friends. What had I done? I found it all a little overwhelming at first – at best I could run about 2km without collapsing in a messy heap. I knew the only way I would be able to motivate myself to do this was by giving myself a purpose – I chose to run for a charity.

Balancing final year studies and marathon training

I dug out my old running trainers, dusted off my ski thermals (yes, November time in Mansfield is freezing!) and found a willing running buddy from my surgical firm. We started with just short 3km runs, with some walking, around the reservoir opposite Kingsmill hospital. Placement was busy with lot of standing in theatre, but we found the time to break up the evening study. Slowly we built this up and started to incorporate longer runs at the weekend. I used to look forward to getting away from the endless revision and OSCE practice – it definitely helped me close the study door and return feeling fresh and ready to continue. During final exams I took out the long runs because I felt too guilty leaving my desk for such long periods and instead maintained shorter distances. As the workload dropped off following finals the running also became easier and I can honestly say I have enjoyed making progress.

My advice to anybody else is to stick with your plan and remember it’s normal to have a wobble – days when you think I cannot and do not want to do this. You’re ultimately putting yourself through a huge physical and psychological challenge – speak to your friends, family and colleagues. I found taking a few minutes to think about the charity really helped me re-focus.

Heads Together

Heads Together is the 2017 Virgin London Marathon’s charity of the year, spearheaded by our Royal Family. Gaining a place through the ballot entry gave me the option to choose a charity. From the outset I was drawn to the work that Heads Together had been doing and their ethos towards mental health. I remember talking to a friend during my psychiatry placement about the lack of funding in mental health and wanted to commit to a charity which not only fundraised, but importantly raised awareness of mental health issues.

Through the Royal Foundation Team Heads Together have been busy with campaigns including #itsoktosay encouraging people to talk about their mental health. The charity is doing great work across the country so that prejudice and fear no longer stand in the way of people getting the help they need. Their motto–let’s get our Heads Together to eliminate the stigma and change the conversation on mental health–is one I feel passionate about.

Fundraising appeal

Donations for my Heads Together marathon appeal can be made via the secure site: www.virginmoneygiving.com/dantownley

As mentioned, this year’s mental health marathon is also about raising awareness. Please follow team Heads Together this Sunday 23rd April in telling your friends and family it’s ok to say and remember with our heads together we will be able to change the conversation on mental health.

Posted in MedicinePlacement