Ross Elledge is originally from Malta, and is a Specialty Trainee in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. Ross graduated from Birmingham in 2010 and was awarded the Arthur Thomson Gold Medal.
What are your career experiences since graduating from the University of Birmingham?
After graduating from Birmingham I went on to complete Foundation Training in Worcestershire Royal Hospital. I completed my Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS) during this time and then gained entry to a Plastic-themed Core Surgical Training programme at University Hospitals Birmingham. In 2013 I gained a place through national recruitment in Specialty Training in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery in the West Midlands. During this time I have rotated through a wide variety of units in the region, as well as completing a Masters in Medical Education (MMEd) with the University of Dundee by distance-learning. I am actively involved in undergraduate and postgraduate education and am Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer for the Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) course in Birmingham, as well as being a Royal College examiner for the Membership of the Faculty of Dental Surgeons (MFDS) examination with RCPS Glasgow.
What is your current role and what does it involve?
Currently I am a Specialty Trainee (ST6) in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. I am currently working at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust on a Head and Neck module of my training. My role involves being supervised in operating in challenging oncology cases using free tissue transfer techniques in close conjunction with my trainer. At my stage I also undertake some independent operating on Maxillofacial trauma. I am due to take my Part I FRCS(OMFS) exams in January 2017 and my estimated completion of training date (CCST) is August 2018.
What do you love the most about your job and what is the biggest challenge?
I love the variety of my job and genuinely enjoy all aspects of surgery. I enjoy being involved with patients throughout their journey from the point of diagnosis in clinic to surgery and recovery. Rehabilitating form and function to address either congenital or acquired deformity is the cornerstone of our specialty and achieving better and better results is what drives me. The biggest challenge is when things don’t go according to plan. Surgery is part art and part science and despite all best intentions sometimes things don’t turn out as anticipated. Being a reflective practitioner and recognising these events as challenges and learning opportunities in a positive way is something I have learnt throughout my training. I had a tendency to be overly hard on myself in the pursuit of perfection, which is unattainable in medicine and surgery. What we can do however, is our best and use our failures to shape our learning to drive knowledge and abilities forward.
How did your degree help prepare you for your career? What subjects/ modules/ experiences did you find the most valuable?
My degree was the bedrock on which I built my experiential learning in higher training. It gave me the tools to teach myself and maximised my ability to learn from others. I know that it stood me in good stead in the perioperative care of patients that I look after and operate on. I always wanted to be “a doctor who operates” rather than a technician, and Birmingham equipped me with that. Communication skills sessions at Birmingham have helped me in difficult interactions with patients in my specialty, both in acute situations and in breaking bad news. Hospital placements in a wide variety of settings (rural and urban, district general and teaching) left me with an ability to maximise my experience in the wide variation in centres in my higher training, as well as feeling comfortable in dealing with a multicultural, ever-changing population.
As a winner of the Sir Arthur Thompson Gold Medal, how do you feel it has helped your career?
The Sir Arthur Thomson Gold Medal is something I am immensely proud of and my wife (also graduated MBChB, 2010) always tells people about it for a start. "Show them the medal" is often the phrase that comes out when people ask about our time at the University.
In all seriousness it was invaluable. I came from Malta, where I spent most of my life growing up, believing that coming from a small island I might not measure up, so to leave such a prestigious course with such an accolade made me believe in myself. It would be no understatement to say that it allowed me to believe that I could do whatever I set my mind to. As I approach the final exams of my career (I first entered dental school in 1998), I take comfort from the fact that I did well at Birmingham and was deemed to be a worthy recipient of the medal.
I often say that I didn't win the medal by remembering long lists of eponyms or being able to recall specifics but because I had a passion for medicine, I wanted to learn and understand and above all I wanted to care and do my best. I like to think that the medal gives me the "leverage" to say that with some impact to the medical students grappling with their first clinical year and allows me to paint a clearer picture to them of what is important, and what isn't. I have been nominated twice for a REME award, (although am yet to win one!) and am now taking part in Medical School interviews for the first time this year as a panel member.
Finally, but most importantly, I have a full life. I married Roxy (nee Khazaee-Farid) who was also a student in the year and is now in the GPVTS scheme. We have a beautiful son called Miles who recently won a medal at his first school Sports Day. I showed him my little medal and he showed me his, and we agreed that the important thing was that he had a great day, just like I had a wonderful few years at Birmingham.
What attracted you to studying at Birmingham?
I wanted to do a three year accelerated course for Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery trainees (I had a background in the specialty as a singularly qualified dental graduate) and Birmingham was one of the few universities offering that. It meant that I was able to have good relations with units in the region during my training so that I didn’t lose touch with the specialty, which made coming back easier later on.
What I got out of it was much more however. I was on a well-thought out and well-supported programme of study with a university that I have been more than happy to give something back to later in my career. It was an institution that gave me an identity as a doctor that will remain with me for my whole life.
How would you sum up your time in Birmingham in three words?
Essential, life-changing, memorable.
What inspired you most during your time at Birmingham?
There were many people who inspired me during my time at Birmingham. I would have to say my wife though. We met in the first few weeks of the course and have now been happily married for 8 years and have a 4 year-old son. Roxy graduated the same year as me from Medicine and is now pursuing a career in primary care (she recently passed her Part I MRCGP). She taught me the importance of remembering to live, to savour every moment, to make memories and to have a life outside of work. This attitude has helped me to put a sometimes difficult profession into perspective on more than one occasion.
What tips/ advice would you give to people who are considering studying medicine/dentistry a Birmingham?
Go for it. They are vocational careers and will shape your identity. Being a doctor in particular is not something you do but something you are. Do not undertake this lightly but once the decision is made seize the opportunity with both hands. There is no finer place to do this than Birmingham. You will be shaped into an all-rounder with a firm foundation in medicine to build a career on, equipped with the tools to shape a life in medicine. Just remember to bring the raw materials each and every day.
How would you advise people to make the most of their time on their course?
See patients. Spend time with them. Do anything, no matter how small, for them. Ultimately, our career is about caring for people and making their lives better and we should never lose sight of that. Studying the books gives you the knowledge but applying that knowledge is the key to success in medicine. Being comfortable with people, reaching out to people and knowing people enables you to put that knowledge into use to transform peoples’ lives when they are facing their biggest challenges. This cannot be underestimated and Birmingham provides the hospital placements and clinical training to make sure you apply the knowledge you acquire. It does mean turning up day after day and making the effort to see as many patients as possible.