Having been trapped in the bubble of London whilst I studied there for four years, I was firmly in the mind-set that there was very little to do outside of its grimy, overpriced boundaries. Growing up in the north of England I was apprehensive about the thought of moving to another ‘casualty of deindustrialisation’ (such is the portrayal of South Wales), especially after living in a capital city, but now I’ve been here for a year and half and I have a hard time admitting the misconceptions I once had. Before the applicant open day, I had never been to Swansea. My impression of Wales had been largely based on the village where my grandparents live just outside of Rhyl, and so unfortunately I saw it as little more than a country full of vast cul-de-sacs of beige painted bungalows with pebbled front gardens.
This perception dissipated pretty quickly on my first visit. Fresh off the Paddington train I made my way down Wind Street towards the direction of the Premier Inn the evening before my interview. The mixture of neon coloured nightclubs, glassy fronted bars and fried chicken shops was oddly reassuring; there was a gentle, comforting ebb of life within the city, a little bit gaudy, a little bit shabby, but alive nonetheless.
Ugly and lovely. That’s how Swansea born literary giant Dylan Thomas once described it. But take a walk around it’s streets and it’s clear to see there has been substantial regeneration all over the city. The marina has transformed from a once industrial port to a selection of bars with wooden pallet tables and cocktails served in mason jars. Remnants of the old Swansea linger behind panelled glass, once functioning machinery turned into ornamental relics to be mused over whilst drinking a craft beer (here’s looking at you Pumphouse). In the student heartland of Uplands there is no shortage of newly opened bars and cafes appearing with freshly painted pastel shop fronts, sandwiched between the rows of estate agents touting for student business. From there you can amble downwards through Brynmill towards the seafront, where the bay sweeps away into the distance, curving around towards Mumbles, and then onwards to the Gower peninsula.
I am still only in my second year of the four-year course and yet I already feel like I’ve had so many opportunities. I’ve seen babies being born and what happens when patients pass away. I spent the day in the back of an ambulance. It’s often mentioned in medical school interviews the privileges that come with medicine, but you don’t really appreciate it until you’re stood in the corner of a chronically ill patient’s living room on a house visit or observing meetings between consultants and families as they make difficult decisions about their loved ones.
I’ve found there’s no shortage of learning experiences if you’re willing to put the effort in; staying that bit longer, doing a night shift, or opting to see what the ward is like at the weekend. As a second year medical student I feel I have very little to offer in most situations (unless bloods need taking for a cooperative patient with nauseatingly accessible veins, then I’m all about it), but despite this I’ve never not felt welcomed in a clinical environment, and as such have learnt an incredible amount and am building on knowledge all the time.
It’s no lie that the work is tough; there’s a lot of material to cover in a relatively short space of time, but I don’t think anyone is here because they thought it would be easy. However, it’s still possible to attain a relatively comfortable work life balance, including time for extra-curricular pursuits. I’ve watched my friends present at conferences (of which there are no shortage to participate in).
I’ve taken part in re-establishing one society (Swansea Psychiatry Society) and also helped in starting another (Swansea Equality in Medicine). Despite the somewhat questionable weather, we’ve still managed the prospectus worthy barbeques on the beach, trekked along the cliff top coastal paths in the Gower, and swam in the freezing cold sea at Oxwich bay in the summer.
I’m not suggesting that everyone who visits Swansea will find it to be some kind of Arcadian nirvana. Like anywhere it has its share of problems, many of which are linked to public health concerns that come through the doors of the hospital, and so it’s important to acknowledge them as medical professionals.
In future posts I aim to explore on what life is like as a medical student in Swansea, focusing a little more on what it’s like interacting with patients and healthare professionals in the clinical setting. I also intend to write about the reasons to stay in Wales after graduation, and why it might not be ‘the graveyard of ambition’* that it once was.
*not a quote by Dylan Thomas, apparently.