Dr Gary Sykes - ObstetricianI am often asked why I am an obstetrician

The decision to become an obstetrician goes back to medical school when I was doing a term in obstetrics. One of the students in our tutorial group asked the obstetrician tutor why he was an obstetrician. His replied: “it’s a happy speciality on the whole, bringing new life into the world. You are looking after healthy women and trying to keep them that way, a pregnancy has a definite beginning and end (that suited my personality), there is a bit of medicine, a bit of surgery and other things so it is a well-rounded profession.”

His comments made an impact on me to the extent he was very instrumental in helping me make my decision to become an obstetrician. He became the obstetrician who looked after my wife Robyn in her first two pregnancies.

Having been an obstetrician for many years now and having delivered many thousands of babies I have no regrets with my decision to become an obstetrician and if I had my time again I am sure I would make the same choice. I will always be grateful to that obstetrician tutor for his words of wisdom.

It is not an easy specialty and indeed there are few who choose it. There are the long hours of work, the unpredictable hours and nature of the work, the high risks and the huge impact the lifestyle of being an obstetrician has on your wife and children. I remember the interpreted family meals, having to leave (and sometimes not get to) watching a child play sport, having to leave school concerts, difficulties in organising holidays and time off, etc., etc. But fortunately I have a wonderful wife who I married as a medical student and who has always supported me on this journey.

When I started out as a specialist obstetrician I asked an obstetrician colleague: “What is the hardest part of the job?” He replied: “The loneliness”. I didn’t know what he meant at the time, but I soon came to understand his answer. He was referring to, for instance, being called into the hospital in the early hours of the morning and being confronted with a life and death situation literally because of a complication of labour. It is you, the midwife and the patient. There are no colleagues, no backup, no time to think about it over a coffee or Google for information. It is just you. You need to act quickly and you need to make the right decision as the patient’s and/or her baby’s life depends on it.

It is because of the high risk and unpredictable nature and terrible hours of the job that many of my colleagues gravitate into ‘more civilised’ and more predictable, less risky and better hours subspecialties such as subfertility, gynae oncology, ultrasound, urodynamics, etc.

But they miss out on the huge buzz you get when you see the joy of a couple with the birth of their baby. Words cannot describe the incredible ‘job satisfaction’ that being an obstetrician gives.

Despite having done this job for many years I enjoy being an obstetrician now more than ever. This is in contrast to some colleagues who tell me they want to quit and others who refocus on gynaecology but continue doing obstetrics because they need the money. Maybe my increased enjoyment has to do with the experience I have gained from having looked after many thousands of pregnant women and delivered thousands of babies, and so I am much more experienced and confident in dealing with pregnancy and delivery complications and unexpected scenarios than I was when I was a more junior obstetrician. Maybe my increased enjoyment has to do with how I have embraced technology in my practice. This includes the personal satisfaction I get in doing ultrasound scans of every patient at every visit and seeing the joy of a patient as she watches her baby with 4D imaging in her uterus on the large TV screen in the examination room. This includes having a very informative obstetric website that I enjoy continuing to enhance. This includes having very active presence on social media, including regular Twitter posts and having patients as Facebook friends who can message me with questions and concerns and also send me wonderful photos with their babies to post. Maybe my increased enjoyment of being an obstetrician has to do with now being a grandfather and being able to look at life from a different perspective. Maybe my increased enjoyment is the outworking of my Christian faith. I suspect my increased enjoyment at being an obstetrician relates to all of the above.

I will always be grateful to that obstetrician tutor for his answer, to my amazing wife Robyn for her encouragement and support over so many years and to by wonderful children for their patience and understanding with my crazy lifestyle.

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