Science

Pathways

Dr Adam Capek
Consultant Anaesthetist

What was your dream career when you were younger?

I had a few “dream jobs” before deciding on a career in medicine.  Rugby player, teacher, lawyer, pilot, anthropologist, actor all made it onto the list for a while.  By my early teens though I was convinced I wanted to be a doctor.

What subjects did you study at school?

Physics and I found Chemistry and Maths the most challenging, but knowing I had to get good grades in these I put my head down and started finding them more and more engaging.  I was never a natural at Maths but putting it into a more real-world context in Physics helped me make more sense of it.

Who or what has been your biggest inspiration?

My grandparents came to the UK as refugees after the Second World War with nothing to their name and a 6 month old baby (my father).  They worked hard all of their lives and taught all of the family that determination and effort were the key to fulfilling your ambitions.  When I started wanting to be a doctor I never let any of the potential challenges (competitive application process, need for high grades through school) put me off.

How have the subjects you studied at school helped you in your career?

Although there is a lot of “art” to medicine and communication with patients and relatives is fundamental in all roles as a doctor, there is no doubt that at its heart medicine is a science.  Clearly a good grounding in biology is essential and there is a lot of chemistry involved in the understanding of drugs (something we particularly need in anaesthesia).  There is a constant need for drug dose calculations so being comfortable with basic maths principles is important while there is a surprising amount of physics involved in anaesthetising a patient (from establishing gas pressures on a ventilator to ensuring electrical safety in the operating theatre).

Please briefly describe your STEM journey since leaving school.

Some STEM topics have always made sense to me but undoubtedly others I have found more of a challenge all the way through.  At medical school though there is the time and support to get to grips with all of the necessary subject matter in lectures, tutorials, clinical placements in hospital and simply sharing thoughts with other students.

After graduating as a doctor though the studying is only just beginning.  Whatever specialty you enter after medical school (general practice, medicine, surgery, anaesthetics, obstetrics, pathology...the list is endless) there is a huge amount of ongoing learning to do and further exams to prepare for.  Even once you have qualified as a specialist (around 10 years after graduating from medical school) there are new things to learn on a daily basis.  New techniques, new medications, new diagnoses.  This makes medicine endlessly challenging and interesting.

What skills do you utilise most in your career? 

I need to take the knowledge and skills I have learnt  about human physiology, the pathology of diseases, pharmacology and physics to plan patient care and then carry out that plan safely.  I have to combine this science with the ability to talk to patients and relatives, listen to their concerns and also to keep calm under pressure.  I do all of this with a large team of doctors, nurses, midwives and other staff who all play a vital role in patient care.

What advice would you give to any young people considering a STEM career? 

Whatever STEM career you choose it will never stop evolving from the moment you qualify to the moment you retire.  There is always research ongoing and so what you learn one day might be out of date the next.  Some may see this as frustrating but I see it as the key to a career which is stimulating every day of your working life.  I would hate to wake up one day and feel that I have learnt everything I need to know about my job - I would lose all of my motivation and enjoyment at work.  There is truly no other career I could wish for and I see it as a huge privilege to play a role in the NHS and to look after patients at some of the most important times in their lives.  Without having pushed myself in the STEM subjects at school (some of which did not come naturally to me) I wouldn’t have had this opportunity.