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The alumna doctor bridging gaps in health and education

From medicine to mentorship, Dr Gabriela Barzyk (MBChB, 2022), discusses her career as a junior doctor and her passion for creating equal educational opportunities for all.

Why did you choose to study Medicine at Warwick?
I loved that Warwick had a larger cohort and that everyone applying was a postgraduate student. This brought so many different experiences to the table; I had studied biomedical science previously, but some people had done nursing, and others had studied geography or physics. When you bring those diverse backgrounds together it led to so many fantastic ideas and exchanges in our sessions and I got to meet lots of different people. I always say you never know who you're going to meet and what impact they'll have on you and looking back, the friendships I made at Warwick are invaluable. We’re based all over the country now, but we still manage to keep in touch and share the stories and struggles of being a junior doctor.

Can you tell me about your journey from graduating to where you are today?
I graduated in 2022 just as we were coming out of the pandemic. I was thankful to be placed in London for my foundation training as that’s where a lot of my friends and family are based. I spent my first foundation year in the Epsom and St Helier Trust and I’m now in my second foundation year at Kingston Hospital, doing acute medicine, general practice, and emergency medicine.

Outside of medicine, I co-founded In2MedSchool whilst at Warwick, an initiative bringing together 2,500 medical student and doctor volunteers with the aim of supporting students from widening participation backgrounds with their journey into a university education and medicine. We officially became a charity in 2022 and we've continued to expand the activity that we offer. It occupies a lot of my time, but I enjoy it so much.

What have been some of the most significant challenges you've encountered when transitioning from medical school to becoming a Junior Doctor?
Before I started, I felt very anxious about what the role was going to be like. I don’t think anyone can truly prepare you for your first day as a Junior Doctor. Suddenly you're the decision maker and first port of call for a team of people. I found that when I first started, everything was an active thinking process. The first few times I prescribed paracetamol I was thinking, how do I do this, how do I sign this prescription? Your brain is so overwhelmed but over time it gets so much easier. I think you’ve got to accept that you’re still learning and that it’s ok to ask for help and support.

What inspired you to get involved with ‘In2MedSchool’?
The UK currently has a huge disparity in the doctor population. It’s so important that doctors represent the communities they serve and that patients feel understood. I came to the UK from Poland at the age of 13, not speaking any English and I found applying to study medicine at university so tricky. My parents wanted to help but they didn’t understand the system, and my teachers didn’t have the best knowledge of the process as not many pupils were going on to study medicine. Navigating that and getting relevant experience was difficult and it would have been so helpful to have had a mentor that could have guided me through the process. I was inspired to establish In2MedSchool to try and bridge this gap, to empower students to produce strong applications and successfully go onto study medicine and make informed decisions.

From the feedback we receive, we know that the support the charity offers is making a real impact. That’s what motivates us to continue to make a difference.

As a recent graduate, what advice do you have for current students or recent graduates who are joining the medical profession?
I’d give three pieces of advice. Firstly, step out of your comfort zone. You may have doubts but so many wonderful things can come from applying for that job or joining that committee and what’s the worst that could happen? People always say you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Next, find a support network for yourself. Joining extra-curricular societies and chatting to peers helped me so much. The friends I made at Warwick were great at supporting each other. People would study together and egg each other on. You won’t remember the times where you were stuck in your room revising but you will remember those small interactions. And finally, looking after yourself is key. Postgraduate medicine is so demanding and it’s important to avoid burnout and ensure you have a good work/life balance to get you through.

Can you share a memorable patient interaction from your foundation year training that has had a significant impact on your perspective as a doctor?
There are so many patient interactions that come to mind, especially during my time working in palliative care. It's such a vulnerable time and some of the conversations you have very much stay with you, something that Warwick really prepared us for in communications sessions.

There was one patient in particular who was in so much pain and having to come to terms with the end of their life. I remember throughout all our conversations about what was going to happen next, they were so positive and realistic. That opened my eyes to the whole experience of working in palliative care and how different people deal with grief and loss.

You recently supported our campaign to raise awareness and donations for Warwick Medical School’s Hardship Fund. Why did you choose to support the campaign?
Coming from a working-class background, I had to think carefully about my finances throughout my studies, including having to work and tutor to support myself. This was the same for my peers. We would often go straight from university to work long shifts or work for the entire weekend because otherwise we couldn’t afford to continue our studies.

The fact that this hardship fund exists and supports students to focus and to relieve financial burden is honestly invaluable. I think medical students sometimes tend to be quite private and suffer in silence. So, hearing this highlighted as an issue and making the general public aware that medical students are struggling means so much to students.

Looking ahead, what are your aspirations for your career and for ‘In2MedSchool’?
Career-wise I’m not sure whether I want to work in the community or in a hospital. I’m hoping to work as a locum for a period whilst I travel and experience different specialties to help me make a more informed decision. I also loved teaching when I was at Warwick. I think down the road, I will look to do a teaching fellowship and get involved in research.

For In2MedSchool, three years into this journey feels like a good time for us to take stock and ensure that we're running as smoothly as we can be. We've got plans for more work experience opportunities and we’re tailoring our mentorship programme to make sure we have as much impact as we can. We're also starting a schools engagement programme, targeting students in secondary school.

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
My proudest achievement is the connections I've made. There are so many wonderful people around me and the organisations I support drive me to do more and enable me to give something back.

One of my proudest and most recent was when I got shortlisted as part of the Women of the Future Programme, 50 Rising Stars in ESG, a list celebrating women aged under 35 from across the world who are leading in environment, social and governance. I got to meet so many wonderful women through this and hear the stories of the impact they're making.

Alongside being named as a Rising Star in ESG, Gabriela won Best Mentor at the Student Social Mobility Awards in July 2023. In November 2023, Gabriela won the Emerging Young Leader Award at the Institute of Leadership’s 2023 Awards and was also named as a Rising Star in the Kindness & Leadership 50 Leading Lights UK 2023 list.

Connect with Gabriela on LinkedIn.

Gabriela as a doctorGabriela in the lecture hallGabriela smiling at the cameraGabriela in a professional conference