Helen's story

“For those first couple of years of working, you are particularly vulnerable... you don’t want to be seen to show weakness.”

Helen had only just started her first Foundation Year training post when she suffered a relapse of Crohn’s disease requiring extensive surgery. Without having time to build a financial safety net, she was not only faced with the prospect of significant time out of medicine, but also the impossibility of being able to support herself financially.

When I first approached the RMBF, I had been in hospital for a few months and I knew I was going to need a prolonged period of recuperation. I didn’t have any savings at the time as when I became sick I was just two months into Foundation Year 1. I didn’t have anything I could fall back on, and was told I would need to take six months off work, which was terrifying.

As a newly qualified medic you aren’t entitled to very much sick leave. And because I have a long-term illness, I couldn’t get insurance. So when this happened, I was left in a really difficult situation. I didn’t know whether to stay local to where my condition was being managed, or try to move home to my parents who live in another country. I felt very isolated.

While there is a huge amount of support when you are in hospital, once you get out of hospital that support isn’t there to the same extent. Everyday issues that you haven’t thought of while acutely unwell come to the forefront and it is a challenge to figure out how to deal with them. I could turn to friends for a lot of things, but I couldn’t ask them to support me for six months financially. For those first couple of years of working, I felt particularly vulnerable. There is more pressure, more stress, and you don’t want to be seen to show weakness. When you have a chronic illness, it’s not the kind of thing you want to talk to your colleagues or boss about. That reluctance to show weakness is often a Catch-22, as you can run yourself into the ground, often compromising your ability to do your job and return to work properly. You also rotate all the time making things particularly difficult. You don’t really have anywhere to turn.

Fortunately, I was encouraged to contact the RMBF by a friend at just the right time. The charity was external, and not linked to anyone in hospital, so it was a safe space to talk about what was going on. The caseworkers were also really helpful, and took most of the major pressures and worries away at a time when I wasn’t able to deal with them properly. It was a really difficult time. Knowing that the RMBF was not only going to support me for the here and now, but also for at least six months of my recovery, really meant that I could focus on getting myself better with the realistic goal of getting back to work again as a trainee. I can’t really put into words how having that security for a period of time made such a difference.

Even after restarting Foundation Year 1 the following August, I remember the charity making it clear that if I was to ever find myself in that situation again in future, I could always reapply for their support and there would be no need to feel that I was on my own again. It really felt like there would always be someone there who would listen, appreciate what you were going through, and be there to help you.

Thanks to the RMBF, I’ve been able to return to medicine and complete my foundation years – and now I’m training to be an anaesthetist. I still have a chronic illness, but I’m far better now. If I was ever in a similar situation again, I wouldn’t feel scared to approach the charity for help.

It makes me feel much more supported in my day-to-day life just knowing the RMBF is there.

Our grateful thanks to Helen for allowing us to share her story.