Lucy Gossard was an NHS oncologist when she decided to take a little time off. Eight years later she is returning to the NHS. How has she found it?
“When I was planning my sabbatical, I told my bosses I thought being a professional athlete would make me a better doctor. If I’m honest I thought these may be empty words, yet with time this became the truth.”
A professional athlete? Yes! Her interest in being a triathlete competing in the Ironman challenge came as she pulled back on her clinical hours in order to concentrate on her PhD. She decided to put the effort she used to put into seeing patients into training for the Ironman events and found that she gained a similar level of satisfaction from a completely different activity.
“I started to train rather than exercise and gradually got quicker. Eventually, I went part-time at work and when I finally finished my PhD, I had a two-and-a-half-year sabbatical to race and train around the world as a full-time triathlete.
“Every race teaches you something about yourself. You learn how much you can suffer. You face up to failure. You discover how much you want to get the best out of yourself. But it can be tougher than most might imagine. Day in, day out, you have to push yourself, motivate yourself and drive yourself.”
Much like being a doctor then?
“As a professional athlete, I developed a business sense that I never had as a doctor. I made a living through prize money and sponsorship so learned to market myself and negotiate contracts.
“What I didn’t realise until now was that returning to work may also make me a better triathlete; perhaps not a faster one, but definitely a more grateful one. Life is short. Working as an oncologist emphasises that every day. I’m looking after two young men with metastatic melanoma at the moment. Both have a horrible, aggressive disease. Whenever I resent the early morning training sessions before work I think of these guys and remember how lucky I am to be able to train; to be outside; to be happy; to be able to make the most of life.”