Bloody minded, loving, and wonky
Hannah Barham-Brown is a foundation year 2 doctor at Kingston Hospital in the South Thames deanery. She graduated from St George’s medical school in London in 2016. Two years previously, she had been diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos syndrome and she now works in a wheelchair. Barham-Brown regularly writes about disability, being a doctor, and the NHS in her blog, Wonky Medicine (hannahbarhambrown.wordpress.com).
Before medical school, she graduated from Durham University in 2008 with a BA Hons English and Theology with Arabic, and qualified as a paediatric nurse in 2012 after studying at Northumbria University.
Barham-Brown sits on various British Medical Association committees, including the Medical Ethics Committee and the Junior Doctors Committee. She is an ambassador for the charity Action for Kids.
You can follow her on Twitter @HannahPopsy.
What did you want to be as a child?
When I was three, I was convinced I would be a weeping willow tree. As I got older, I wanted to be a doctor, actress, detective, and a writer. I still haven’t ruled all of them out yet.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
I know a lot of people say their mother, but she really has been my biggest inspiration. My mum was the first disabled woman to read law at the University of Cambridge, and she has got me to where I am today both mentally and physically.
If you were given £1m what would you spend it on?
I would pay off my massive student debt, get on to the housing ladder, and donate a large chunk to the charity Action for Kids, which provides mobility equipment for young people who are disabled and helps young people with special educational needs get into work.
Where are you, or have you been, happiest?
When I am travelling with my partner and getting hopelessly lost.
What book should every doctor read?
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.
What poem, song, or passage of prose would you like mourners at your funeral to hear?
Mozart’s Requiem followed by Long Live the Queen by Frank Turner.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Getting home, shoes off, on the sofa, the sound of red wine glugging—but I refuse to feel guilty about any of those things.
What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learnt as a medical student?
Trust nurses whenever they say there is anything wrong with a patient: they develop a sense for these things before the machines do. Also, at medical school, you’re not learning to pass finals, you’re learning for the day when your patient needs you to know the answer.
What has been the funniest moment at medical school?
I was teaching how to perform a rectal examination when I fell in a tray of lubricant while my (now) partner was looking on.
Do you support doctor assisted suicide?
I am torn. I think that until disability is better respected and supported I am worried about the potential impact of this decision on the most vulnerable.
Summarise your personality in three words
Bloody minded, loving, and wonky.
What are your pet hates?
The sound of teeth grinding; everything about cucumbers; and being patronised.
What would be on the menu for your last supper?
I would want a banquet, which would include sticky toffee pudding, a good steak, and peanut butter.
What subject should students receive more teaching on at medical school?
The importance of giving patients a diagnosis, or at least an explanation of their symptoms. If we’re unsure of the diagnosis, we have to be comfortable saying so, otherwise patients can feel that they are not believed or that their problems don’t matter.
What would you like to have achieved by the end of your career?
To have disability recognised as an asset as much as a challenge, both within and outside medicine. Being a doctor in a wheelchair shouldn’t be the most interesting thing about me.Laura Glenny, editorial assistant, Student BMJ
Competing interests: None declared.
Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.