HIGIO – Peter Smitham – “Good Foundation Year and Better Role Models”

As a teenager, I always hated the question, “what do you want to do when you leave school”? I would answer by saying I wanted to be a vet because I am allergic to animal hair and felt it was the one thing I could never be. I first considered a medical career after seeing my mother’s transformation after her surgery.  Exploring this option further, I asked the local GP why he went into medicine and his response was “Because I thought I would be good at it.”  A work shadowing experience during my “A” levels cemented the idea. Seeing the fun, caring attitude and team spirit the nurses, physiotherapists and doctors had with each other and with patients confirmed my thoughts. A gap year teaching deaf and blind children in India, with a short stay in an Indian public hospital, gave me a passion for travelling and opened my eyes to the differences in healthcare around the world. University was spent enjoying any travelling opportunities available, buying a Landrover and driving from Bristol to Ghana and studying acupuncture in Taiwan, but back home, I enjoyed the surgical specialties the most; mixing the diagnostic opportunities and the ability for surgeons to often provide both medical and surgical solutions.


I arrived to start my first job as a House Officer, racking up 120 hours on a bad week. It was tough juggling relationships and extracurricular activities, however, as we all worked and played hard, it was a great experience.


Orthopaedics became the most obvious option during my House Officer Years, at the Avon Orthopaedic Centre. Within a few week of starting, the registrar for the firm decided they did not want to do another arthroplasty job and so elective lists were spent with me being first assistant, running between cases to finish ward paperwork and on-calls, contacting Mr. Smith for any management issues. Nevertheless, I felt supported. Mr. Bannister provided Monday lunchtime teaching on orthopaedic principles and plaster techniques to all the House Officers, in a fun and lively manner.


After an A&E attachment, I moved to the Hammersmith BST Rotation. I enjoyed all the surgical firms. I was tempted by vascular surgery, the immense satisfaction of seeing a blue leg become pink, with a pulse and the adrenaline of an AAA. However, orthopaedic surgeons seemed to be happier and the opportunity of operating on trauma or elective cases, the young or the old, the sick or the well, covering the entire body, eventually won out and a PhD in Sydney followed, but that’s a different story.


If I could give some advice to juniors, it would be to make the most of any opportunity offered, consider the courses you need and try and combine them to be in places you want to visit, whether it is an ATLS in USA or AO courses in Davos and obviously enjoy the journey for it is a long road to take if it isn’t fun.