Life of an Island Medic

Life of an Island Medic

Ammena Zahabi

If someone had told me in Medical School that I would end up living on an island while working there as a medic, I would have laughed in their face. Fast forward five years, and here I am, living my best life, on the Isle of Man and working, you guessed it, as a medic.

How did I end up here? I woke up and had an epiphany that I wanted to get out of the city. The options available to me included the Isle of Man, so I just went for it. I got the job, packed my bags, and off I went to the island I had barely even heard of, forget been to!

For those who don’t know, the Isle of Man is a self-governing crown dependency, located between the Irish Sea and Great Britain to the West of Liverpool. The island has a comprehensive national health service however, it is largely funded and governed by the Manx government and therefore some services differ to the UK’s NHS.

After spending 3 months at home in the first lockdown and seeing the pandemic suffocate the UK, I was delighted to come to a land unblemished by Covid. I drove off of the ferry straight into a city of busy people, surrounded by hillside and greenery. Then it hit me, I am no longer at home. On an island with no friends, no knowledge of the local communities, there was a sense of loneliness but also a profound excitement of discovering the unknown.

So what is it like working on an Island?

Firstly, the hospital itself is quite a small place. Living on site makes the commute the easiest. I can roll out of bed and get to my ward in 2 minutes. If there’s anything to be grateful for, it’s not having to sit on a bus for 45 minutes to get to work. It’s easy to get to know the whereabouts of the place. It doesn’t take years to walk from one end to the next. Everybody knows everyone and all staff are on a first name basis, making it a friendly environment. Needless to say, with it being such a small island, you can’t escape a trip to Tesco without bumping into your colleagues or patients you treated that week, whilst in your pyjamas.

The exposure to a wide range of medicine is more than I would have imagined. Everything from your basic cardiac arrests, to your patients needing to go for surgery is commonplace. The lack of secondary and tertiary centres means you can recognise “rare” diseases and practise the medicine you learnt at medical school. Learning is fast paced, but supported. However the lack of certain cases/specialities mean you have to be prompt in arranging the air ambulance and contacting hospitals across the sea to transfer patients for emergency treatments which are unavailable here. Nonetheless, it’s always stimulating and quite a culture shock coming from such a busy city.

However, like all hospitals, there are always issues. To me, these issues feel like a hindrance in providing a standard level of care and include:

  1. The lack of electronic notes on the wards

  2. We are still using handwritten prescriptions which feels a bit behind

  3. The lack of certain facilities (i.e. PCI for MIs) or regular specialty staff (i.e. having to fly in a neurologist weekly)

  4. The lack of shared care between certain GPs and the Hospitals

All of the above are things we take for granted in the UK. Nonetheless, after accepting that these issues are beyond anyone’s control, I quickly adjusted and have managed to make the most out of working here. It is important to recognise the day to day running of the island’s health and social care services is run by Manx Care. Manx Care works hard to make the hospital more efficient, deliver better quality of care and create one of the best small healthcare systems in the world.

And what’s it like living there?

As a junior doctor here, the perks include getting accommodation on hospital site. I can’t complain about free accommodation, and though it’s not a five star luxury hotel, it’s cosy enough to call home. It almost has a Fresher’s feel to it; you get your own flat but your friends are in the same building; you all socialise together in the common room and go out together. In some ways it’s like re-doing university, except you have your degree and you get paid so you can splash out guilt free.

The island itself is beautiful. From the Raad Ny Follian (Way of the Gull) which encompasses 12 routes taking you around the perimeter of the island with breathtaking views, to small plantations, there is a lot of nature. The beaches itself are beautiful and in summer, it has a very holiday feel to it with the occasional sightings of dolphins and whales. From Ice-cream parlours, to the hustle and bustle of café’s on the promenade to the clear blue sea, there are constant reminders to appreciate the life the island offers.

Now don’t get me wrong, I miss the small luxuries of shops like Lidl and Aldi, not to mention their fresh bakery, but the small community of locally produced groceries gives it a more authentic farmer feel.

But what about the People?

The people are what makes this Island what it is. The islanders are so proud of their home, and so keen to show it off. The locals are friendly, keen to learn about different cultures and people which made me feel at ease. The morning sea swims and coffee hosted by my favourite café bring people together and have since become my weekly habit.

Violence and severe crime here is next to nil. It’s not to say it doesn’t happen but I don’t fret when I leave my phone somewhere, and I know that more often than not, I will be safe to walk around at night which I count my blessings for. The people here have a good heart, and are eager and keen to get to know each other. It has a nice welcoming feel, like a warm hug. As a result, this island has become home.

So what’s the conclusion?

Practicing medicine here was more than I ever thought I would get. From the small luxuries of the greenery at my doorstep, to learning constantly on the job, this island has taught me a lot about what I want not only out of my career but out of my life. I know I have so much more to learn but I am happy I pushed myself out of my comfort zone of the city I knew and got to meet the people who have made this experience so very special.


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