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Role Models: Imaging

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Dr Shelley Rahman-Haley
Harefield
Cardiology is a tough career choice I think, regardless of one’s gender. There is something all-consuming about it. It takes you over. But it is also extremely satisfying and at times great fun. There are also lots of ways to practise cardiology, so it has something for everyone, whatever style of working life you are looking for.

People often ask me why I chose cardiology and I tell them that it chose me! I enjoy being good at what I do, and so I simply gravitated towards the area of medicine which came easiest to – that I seemed to be “naturally” good at. My father was a radiologist, and I often wonder if that sparked my interest in the diagnostic side of medicine – for me, the most interesting thing to do is to work out what is going on. It is often written that the novelist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based the character of his great detective Sherlock Holmes on a surgeon who had a formidable reputation for reaching conclusions from the most minute observations. I enjoy making those observations and putting everything together to work out the answer to a diagnostic puzzle. My love of making a diagnosis led me naturally to cardiac diagnostics and imaging. I started learning echocardiography when I was an SHO at the West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds. I used to hang around and make a nuisance of myself pestering the echo staff to show me scans and eventually to let me have a go. I ended up doing 6 months as a LAS registrar, a year as a LAT registrar and 3 years in imaging research before getting my NTN in SE Thames deanery. I had reported over 400 transthoracic echoes before I was even a numbered registrar – those were the days!!!

I loved my cardiology training, but definitely suffered from a dearth of female role models or mentors. I was very determined to stick to my imaging guns and aim for a tertiary centre echo post. Looking back now, I think I might have flourished in an academic career but at the time I felt I was not clever enough and I did not have anyone to talk it through with or to advise me.

I was appointed as a service lead in a tertiary centre straight out of registrar training. Looking back, I can say that it was a very tough start to my consultant career, managing very experienced allied professional staff who were much older and more experience than I was. Again, I was disadvantaged when faced with tricky situations by having no mentoring, and I feel strongly about supporting other women at those difficult times in their careers.

My main clinical interests are adult valve disease and cardio-oncology. I enjoy TOE and take pride in performing procedures that the patients actually enjoy (seriously!). As I have become more experienced, I have developed something of a portfolio career involving work for NICE, BCS, Imperial College undergraduate lecturing and working with the Pan-London Imaging Network. I am a slightly restless soul and need this variation to maintain my interest and engagement.

I have two children, both born after I became a consultant. It is not easy trying to combine a full-time career in cardiology with being a mum of young children. Friends often ask me how I do it and I simply say, “I do everything badly!” – whilst this is my stock line to get a laugh, it is true that I do everything less well than I would do it if I were not being pulled in all directions, and this is difficult for me psychologically because in everything I do, I like to give my very best. I manage to enjoy time with the children by joining in with their activities – as a result, I now hold a black belt in tae kwon do!

Cardiology is a tough career choice I think, regardless of one’s gender. There is something all-consuming about it. It takes you over. But it is also extremely satisfying and at times great fun. There are also lots of ways to practise cardiology, so it has something for everyone, whatever style of working life you are looking for.

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