David Sunnucks is a clinically hearing impaired lecturer in medical and anatomical sciences here at St George’s. David talks about his career thus far, how he got into medicine and how he managed to overcome the barriers he has faced in the profession as a result of his condition.
When did you first realise that you wanted to be a Doctor?
Probably during one of the many ear surgeries I had as a child – I’ve had 27 and counting. I felt like I lived at the hospital growing up, it became a sort of family throughout the years. I realised these wonderful people really cared about helping people. I wanted in, I actively sought experience from a young age in many areas of medicine. I observed how my own consultant treated patients with such respect and kindness, how he always had a smile on his face. He was a great role model for me. I really wanted to get into profession and break the “deaf stereotype”. My disability does not define who I am, if anything it has empowered me.
What would you say the biggest challenge was when studying medicine?
My biggest challenge was having to take time out from training because my disease reoccurred. I noticed something really wasn’t right in my third year – I had progressive hearing loss, mucky ears and was generally plagued with illness after illness. It was an incredibly difficult decision to take an interruption of study, but health is more important and I requested surgery. It was a good call according to my surgeon. A seven-hour operation, the longest I had, followed to try and sort it out.
Afterwards it was tough readjusting to “normality” and the sheer pace of medicine. Medics with hearing disability had to work “ten times as hard” according to my audiologist. I was fearful of stethoscope work to begin with as I was recovering and readjusting to sound levels. I worried about missing an added heart sound or hearing softer sounds in acute situations. I managed to overcome the nerves quite quickly thanks to friends and seniors who were really willing to go the extra mile to help me. I will be forever grateful to them.
What would you say to anyone considering a degree in Medicine? Specifically, anyone that feels that they wouldn’t be able to?
I would say explore everything. Talk to people, institutions, current students and gain as much experience as you can to be sure. People can fail at any stage through the process, and, from my experience, those that do realised that they didn’t want to do it in hindsight. I know this can be difficult for some people but if it really is your passion - go for it! It is not what you imagine – I have been with friends and colleagues who have had doubts along the way, they romanticised what medicine would be like. It is perfectly normal, but to anyone at a crossroads, remind yourself why you got into it.
To those potential students who feel they are not able - go for it! It doesn’t matter what your social status, ethnic background is, whether you are disabled or have financial worries. Seek help, attend open days and ask for guidance on all aspects – there are ways around it. If you are not accepted first time around, try again! I was told on numerous occasions at school that, because of my disability, I would not be able to be a doctor. I take pride knowing what I have achieved, but that wasn’t without the support of my family, friends and the people who really helped me along my journey so far.
What do you think the most valuable lesson is that you’ve learned throughout your career?
This is a difficult question to answer, but I think, from my experience so far, it is the power of kindness. Kindness costs nothing, a small act really does go a long way. A simple task of helping a patient/colleague/friend, can help any situation. I know not all patients are welcoming of it, but the ones who are – really are! We are all busy, with many tasks to accomplish, but I hope that our students/doctors can sometimes go the extra mile for patients – we are all patients to someone. A simple gesture of propping up a pillow, fetching some water, spending ten minutes at the end of your shift to check in on a worried patient that you saw earlier can go a very long way.
Always be kind and respectful to everyone. It’s not an easy road, know that times will be tough and you can fail, but with the right people, support and sheer determination you can succeed – never, ever give up!
What do you enjoy most about being a lecturer at St George’s?
I feel so privileged to be working at St George’s. It really is a dream come true - the energy of the place and the people. My colleagues are very supportive of each other and all strive to make the students’ experiences memorable. We are very lucky to be able to deliver anatomy sessions with our body donors, something which I think sometimes gets taken for granted at our institution. I also enjoy keeping my clinical hat on, now beginning to help assist in clinical skills/communication skills and providing clinical knowledge. This is something I hope to build on and continue to do in the future.