I have always known ever since my days at school that I wanted to be a doctor. I was not good at mathematical-type sciences, but really enjoyed biological sciences; how the human body and people in general really work.
From the age of 16 I did summer jobs as a nursing auxiliary in a cardiac unit in a local hospital. I really enjoyed talking to the patients, many of whom had just had heart attacks and faced uncertain futures. I felt that I had an empathy with them, I could listen to their stories and even at that age I realised that just talking to them was helpful.
In 1978 I left Northern Ireland and came to medical school at Charing Cross Hospital, which opened up a whole new world for me.
Having qualified and somewhat lacking in direction I was putting together my own GP training scheme, I found myself doing a 6 month Senior House Officer job in psychiatry at Frimley Park Hospital under a doctor from Chile. We developed a great relationship and he taught me what a good psychiatrist should be; a good diagnostician, able to listen and provide practical help and hope at a time of crisis.
From the beginnings of my experience with patients at medical school, I could see how problems with substance abuse can cause so much in the way of physical, mental, and social consequences.
There was often little available in terms of treatment resources and little understanding of these problems. Addictions are often dismissed by physicians, surgeons and general practitioners. I felt that I had something to offer in working in this field.
My time is divided between inpatients at the Priory Hospital Roehampton and outpatients both at the hospital and in central London.
Three times a week I meet with the Addiction Treatment Team to discuss the inpatients, their progress, problems and what interventions and discharge plans need to be made.
My outpatient work involves assessing new patients, some of whom want to deal with their addiction problem and others who may not have been so keen. I have to try motivational interviewing techniques to encourage the patient to acknowledge the consequences of their addiction and the need to take action as soon as possible.
Many people still think that the Priory only deals with celebrities and the wealthy that have addiction problems. This could not be further from the truth. The majority of our patients are working, some have health insurance, others self paying who desperately want to fix what's wrong with them.
The other misconception is that addiction is somehow a choice to be bad, rather than a disease over which patients are powerless.
Never knowing what's going to turn up! I have been privileged in this job to meet people from all walks of life, from the unemployed and homeless, to the rich and apparently successful, people from every country in the world and people doing jobs and involved in organizations which I had never heard of before.
My work has been an immense privilege.
The absolute key skill to being a good psychiatrist is to be interested and really care about other people. You have got to be curious, empathetic and understanding.
We all have different skills so when you meet a psychiatrist who has the right combination of attributes, it is really quite striking.
I have been teaching medical students since I qualified as a doctor in 1984. You really have got to want to be a doctor, to look at the whole person not just see them as a number, a collection of biochemical reactions and cells, but as a living breathing organism with hopes, dreams and aspirations. People are fascinating. How their body, and mind and how the combination of these two work has got to interest you and can be a never-ending source of inspiration.
Psychiatry needs doctors who care and want to make a difference to people's lives.