Saturday 17 March 2018

Dr Ciara Kelly: 'This next chapter in my life may be great or it may be a total disaster'

Dr Ciara Kelly. Photo: David Conachy
Dr Ciara Kelly. Photo: David Conachy

I saw my last patient this week, possibly ever. Oh, I knew it was coming, and even though in the end it was just a fairly routine GP visit and I doubt they thought it was very significant — for me it was a huge milestone. The magnitude of it I’m not sure has sunk in, drawing to a close 20 years of work as a doctor.

And I have loved being a doctor. It’s a funny job. They change your prefix from Ms or Mr to Dr and the truth is it becomes part of who you are, part of your identity — not just to others but to yourself. So you don’t just work as a doctor. You become one. And it’s a massive privilege and a massive responsibility in equal measure.

I’ve often thought I got as much if not more from my patients than they ever got from me. I know at some of the lowest points in my life, going to work and talking to my patients was almost the only thing that would take me out of myself and make me realise I wasn’t the only one with problems. It grounded me. It uplifted me. Working in a job that helps other people is a kind of win-win. You help them but somehow by helping them you help yourself too. So it’s not without some real sadness and trepidation that I’m leaving. And I suspect I will miss my patients long after they stop missing me.

And I’ve never really done

anything quite so reckless, quite so un-sensible before. I went to college straight out of school and did commerce — even though I didn’t much like the idea. My parents who wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go to college — my mum didn’t even have the chance to finish secondary school — were very keen that all their children would go on to third level so we would never struggle like they had had to. So even though commerce didn’t sound all that appealing I remember them urging me to do it — so that I would have “something to fall back on”. The carrot of cutting loose and doing something carefree after commerce was dangled in front of me but that never happened as straight after commerce, I went into medicine which suited me much better. And straight after that I went into hospitals.

I have friends who talk about the wild 1990s when Dublin started to become cosmopolitan and edge its way towards the boom years. But my 1990s were spent in a daze on being up all night walking the floors of The Mater Hospital in a pair of scrubs and falling asleep while trying to study for exams. That all seemed to roll seamlessly into having a family. So doing stuff that wasn’t sensible wasn’t really on my agenda.

And let’s be honest. Giving up my job as a GP — with all its security and stability and longevity — to present a radio show isn’t very sensible! But I’m doing it anyway. I’ve been dabbling in the media for about a decade although of late it’s become a much bigger commitment and then after a series of well-publicised events, the offer of my own show came along unexpectedly. And the rest, as they say, is history.

So why do it, if I love being a GP so much? Well I suppose because I think I’d probably regret it if I didn’t. It’s rare enough that life throws you an opportunity that outstrips your hopes and dreams and the truth is I really love broadcasting. And even though I also love being a doctor, I simply can’t continue to do both. Something had to give and that thing was probably going to be me. But also I didn’t want to do either job badly and that was probably going to happen if I didn’t choose. But I’ve also learnt from this that it’s possible to move forward and embrace change and want to do something new while also feeling a sense of sadness and even fear about what you are leaving behind.

In any case I know this — that this next chapter may be great or it may be a total disaster, but either way I still want to do it and I’d rather try this and fail than not try it at all. I’m excited and a small bit terrified but mixing things up even in your forties feels like a pretty good thing to do. And on the bright side thanks to years of behaving sensibly — if it all goes horribly wrong, at least I do have something to fall back on.


Lunchtime Live with Ciara Kelly is on Newstalk Radio weekdays, 12-2pm

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