• Molly van der Heiden

Doctors without stethoscopes: Shandy Shack

Part 1 of Doctors without Stethacopes series

Tom Stevens left medical school in 2016. After F2 he decided to start a drinks company called the Shandy Shack whilst working part time as a locum. Very recently he has left healthcare completely and is focusing on his company he founded with 2 friends, including another Doctor.

Where did you go to med school and did you enjoy it?

Birmingham 2010 -2016; it was decent. I really enjoyed medical school, it was very social and I had always been a bit of a geek. I have absolutely no regrets about spending 6 years at medical school. I learnt how to work really hard, I made friends for life and will be able to get a hip operation at bargain cost in the future. During Uni, I was very involved with sports and event organizing which interested me a lot more than my studies; so I guess from very early on I had an inkling I may become a part time doctor. Also, the NHS is the third largest employer in the world and so it’s interesting to have such an insight into it.

What career path did you initially follow

I had intercalated in clinical science and had really got into it. Therefore, I applied for an academic F1 and F2 job (only 150 in the country). This was actually one of the worse decisions I made and a big contributing factor to me packing it all in. I was led astray by people making academic F1 seem like a good way to stand out. However, I did have more control over where I could go.

What made you leave Medicine behind?

Through f1 and f2, it struck me I had lost the love and the desire to carry on with the slog that is training. This was largely due to the lack of flexibility in the national training. You can’t swap your rotations at all even if both of you really need/want the swap. I had to work 1 in every 2 weekends over summer and having become heavily involved in my local cricket club, I wanted to be playing cricket. I realized that everyone’s advice was not about implementing change to make my current life better but that it was worth the inconvenience, stress and unhappiness to become a consultant. Boundaries kept being pushed further back and I care about what I’m doing now approaching my 30s not when I’m 50.

Barriers to change can be justifiable like cost or lack of alternatives but I started to feel helpless like a tiny cog in a massive operation. A pawn that moves around doing basic assessments and paperwork. Over half of my friends seriously contemplated quitting medicine as well. Being a Cardio reg for two years is meant to be one of the most demanding jobs in a hospital. However, I sat in chest pain clinic just ordering the same scans following a pathway, it doesn’t take a create deal of intellectual thought.

In addition, I hated so much the chip on the shoulder of medics who feel they have dedicated their lives to helping people and being paid nothing. Such a common thought process that could be working in the city and earning 6 times the amount. Whereas, actually very hard to get those degrees and apply for jobs in an open market unlike the guaranteed job we all got.

I didn’t want to end up complaining about all the things I hadn’t done, I wanted to have a go whilst I was still young. There comes a point when you accept something is not right for you.

What do you do now?

There was a pause at end of f2 and was a good time to give it a go, so I made the decision to go part-time whilst working as a locum. I founded a startup drinks company called the shandy shack with two friends; one is a doctor and one is a digital strategist. We are a new drinks brand trying to reinvent the shandy which is the original low alcoholic drink and has long been ignored. It’s a realistic way for people to drink less alcohol in their week to week activity but still enjoying social activity. For the first 6 months I worked three days a week on shandy shack and 2 days as an SHO on cardiac register Rota in Southampton. Then one week in a month at the hospital for a year. Then 3 days a month. Now none at the hospital and full time shandy shack. Currently I sit down at my desk at 7:30am and don’t stop working till 10pm and love it.

How did coronavirus affect this?

So, I was doing a week a month at the time coronavirus broke as I worked loads more in winter/spring and then in summer when Shandy shack are busier and when I was playing cricket this was reduced. Worked a week in early March and Covid had come to Southampton. I currently live in the Cotswold’s but when I was working at Southampton I stayed with friends. I couldn’t live permanently with the friends. Equally I wasn’t happy commuting from the Cotswold’s as my parents have increased risk and the village in full of elderly people. I did feel a moral obligation to work and thought about renting a house in Southampton, however if I got Covid I wouldn’t have got paid and couldn’t have afforded it. There was a lot of judgment from the registrars when I eventually decided to work on shandy shack full time. However, I did say that if they needed me they should call and was prepared for this. But due to the cancelling of routine operations, the ward has never been so empty so haven’t been needed, luckily.

Any advice for anyone who is studying medicine and is not completely set on being a doctor?

Nothing happens overnight. Take your time to work out what it is you don’t enjoy and how you could avoid those aspects. Build up this picture over a few months. Don’t just quit when you have had a bad day, being a doctor is an amazing career and has lots of variety within it.

Go out and do stuff you might enjoy, for example I organised a beer festival and some cricket events. I found myself really enjoying those tasks and it got me excited. I had a sense of achievement which I hadn’t felt in medicine. If you can try things on a small scale that you can manage whilst working that’s useful. Don’t just bin your medical career off and expect to be offered jobs in other industries without experience.

In addition, it’s becoming more acceptable to have career breaks. Think ahead to tie projects with natural breaks in career where is can be easy to take time. Also don’t be put off by all the people saying are you sure it’s the right thing because you will know what’s right for you better than anyone else.