We sat down with Dr. Helen Coutts, Consultant Pediatrician and Site Director for AUC students at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust (known as Blackburn) in the UK, to learn more about this vivacious, accomplished faculty member.
Q: How did you become involved in healthcare?
I suppose my love of medicine stemmed from growing up in a household with a mother who was a general practitioner in family medicine and father who was a university lecturer and organic chemist. All of our dinner conversations inspired my love of medical education and the importance of pastoral care.
For the past seven years, I have had the privilege of being the site director at Blackburn Hospital Trust for AUC students. Although our trust is a busy teaching hospital—with students coming from Manchester University as well as AUC—we have always had an ethos of small firm numbers, excellent hands-on experience, and most importantly knowing and being there to support all our students. I hope we have achieved this over the many years that AUC students have been coming.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
One of the most satisfying activities is the weekly sessions where everyone gets to meet and help support each other; not only academically but also socially! It’s great seeing students develop over the nine months that they rotate here and really witnessing their transformation into practicing doctors.
Additionally, as a clinician at Blackburn, I’m able to provide acute, stimulating medicine. Blackburn is the biggest district general hospital in the northwest of England with over 70 pediatric beds and is full of fascinating cases. Due to the population we serve—with a very high consanguous marriage rate—no diagnosis is too obscure!
Q: Describe your other academic positions.
For the last nine years, I’ve been a consultant pediatrician (attending). I qualified from Newcastle University 20 years ago. I’m also critical care/HDU lead and APLS instructor.
Academically, I am the pediatric module lead for the University of Manchester with a recent role in developing a fair assessment process for students, improving the quality and reliability of the feedback, and grading from all aspects of the students placement from academic to professionalism.
I’m also involved with the Manchester curriculum mapping and development and I found all the experience invaluable when writing the new pediatric curriculum for AUC and representing pediatrics on the AUC curriculum committee.
Q: What’s one of your fun facts that people might not know?
I have an identical twin who works in Edinburgh as a consultant geriatrician. We both have the same role, just at different ends of the spectrum! No patient can be fully sorted until the family and social situation is tackled and in these last two generalized areas of medicine it is never truer. I hope that I have been able to impart the importance of this to the students who I have had the pleasure of teaching.
Q: What advise do you have for clinical students?
Work is only a part of life and to survive successfully as a doctor it is vital to have another life to escape to, to relax in. I have the luxury of working part time and spending quality time with my three children and husband.
I would encourage everyone in their training to think hard about what you really need in life to help cope and relax. Take time to fulfill that just as schedule time to practice for your CK exams. This will not only make you a better doctor but this in turn will help not just yourself but also your patients.
For me, I love the outdoors and the countryside around the UK is perfect for hiking with its dedicated footpaths and camping. And, there’s no poisonous creatures or bears! The stunning Lake District is very close and perfect for camping (well truthfully glamping, I do like my kettle and fairy lights).
I really enjoy working with the AUC and hope to meet some of you some day in the UK or even in Blackburn.