As part of our View from the Community series of articles, our Year 6 Specialty Choice Lead Dr Ros Herbert interviewed community teacher Dr Dana Beale, to get the inside track on what it’s like being a teacher for Imperial College.
Dana, tell me what first got you interested in homeless medicine?
|Dr Dana Beale aboard her narrowboat|
“Incredibly I was inspired by the same module I did as a student at Imperial College that I am now teaching on! Back then it was ‘medical and social care of the homeless’ and was based at the surgery for the homeless in Great Chapel Street – a fabulous service that showed me that primary care tailored to this vulnerable and challenging group existed and I promised myself there and then that I would return to work in this field.”
What makes you so enthusiastic about this work?
“I find this line of work a breath of fresh air; at times incredibly challenging but hugely rewarding. I feel privileged to be able to delve into patients’ lives at often their most chaotic and vulnerable, to reach out and essentially say ‘right…. How can we help you out here?’ I love the fact that it can range from helping those with complex medical cases and advanced pathology to psychiatric and psychological support with all sorts of things thrown in along the way. It feels natural to me to be faced with someone who needs an intense and complex team-based approach and to figure out where on earth to start – and to recognise that sometimes all that is needed is to show basic human kindness and just listen. The team around me makes my job a thousand times easier every day.”
What challenges does this “specialty” have?
“It can be a big challenge dealing with people who have often had difficult childhoods then have lost everything and are at rock bottom. Behaviour can be aggressive or defensive and it can be hard to strike the right balance between being approachable but also staying safe; between being supportive whilst also not acquiescing to every request – for example drug seeking behaviour. But over time I have learned how to help people to see that what they think they need RIGHT NOW may be the most detrimental thing to them in the long-run. We don’t always get it right and are always still learning. Risk management and good team communication is vital.”
If you were PM (not a bad idea?!) what would you do to improve the lot of the homeless?
“As PM I would make reducing health and wealth inequalities a key priority. I would seek to steer away from the perception that these are lazy people who want something for nothing and are just a drain on society. Epidemiological studies tell us that countries that support their unemployed and incapacitated will see a quicker and more sustained return to working life and being ‘productive’ in society – rather than focusing on ever more brutal sanctioning and impossible hoops to jump through.”
You obviously love teaching the students, tell us why?
“I feel honoured to be charged with fresh young minds to teach – so much of the time they really do teach me too! I like finding out about my students and which paths they hope to take and to perhaps plant a few seeds that will blossom in their later practice. Even if just one person looks at the homeless heroin addict they are dealing with in A+E, on the wards or in a GP surgery through a different filter and remembers that they are a human being with their own unique story, I feel I will have achieved something.”