Future M.D. with IBD: Transatlantic Experiences


I am a 24 year old medical student and was diagnosed with Crohn’s in 2013. I had just started medical school when the cramps became unbearable. I had previously attributed them to side effects from my appendectomy two years previously (which I now know was my first flare up). However, I finally attended my local A&E (ED) and was diagnosed that same day.

While balancing my first year of medical school, I tried the liquid diet, steroids, azathioprine and Humira all with no success. I finally accepted surgery and in summer 2014 I had a right sided hemi-coloectomy. My recovery was quick, uneventful and I currently take azathioprine to maintain remission. I have recently discovered that I have passed second year, so this story ends on a high note so far.
At this point, I must say my medical school were brilliant. They were supportive, offering me the chance to restart Year 1 after surgery if need be and advising me on things I’d never considered. However the medical journey of this diagnosis was never my real priority. I was always thinking in the back of my mind, how was this affect my career? I dreamed of being a doctor for so long and getting accepted to medical school seemed like the final hurled. How wrong I was.
This disease potentially changes everything. It bars me from entering the British Navy as a medical officer. Should/when it returns, poor sleep and eating habits will exacerbate flares. This doesn’t sound great for a career in Emergency Medicine (EM), known for it’s 9 to 5 and lavish lunch breaks. My true dream is to work for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) after a few years of EM training. Yet, I doubt the third world has fridges to keep my Humira in should Crohn’s return.
Crohn’s has left me in this wilderness that none of my fellow classmates seem to understand. I am having career options shut off, before I’ve even graduated. Crohn’s plays a constant role in my life yet I don’t want to let it define my life. But I have no template to follow. My knowledge of Crohn’s before my diagnosis was small at best and I still feel like I’m trying to keep my head above the water. Who can I look for inspiration? Where are the fellow doctors who have travelled this same path? There is just an empty void.

I tried local support groups but they just seem to want to talk about being ill constantly. Sorry, but no one needs that negativity in their life. I need a role model, someone who has done this and come out the other side. How do you balance the demands of patients with the demands of the toilet? Patients will come to me one day asking the same questions, but as of yet I have no answers.

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