Emergency Medicine Consultant Dr Dirken Krahn talks to us about her career journey
During the past 20 years, Wavelength has partnered with 1000s of Doctors from all over the world. As part of our birthday celebrations, we are excited to shine the spotlight on some of our Doctors who joined us in the early days to see how they are doing and how their careers have progressed.
Dr Dirken Krahn
When Dr Dirken Krahn approached us back in 2001 as a UK-based Paediatrics Registrar, little did she know her gypsy nature would take her on a journey of career discovery and that she would now be a successful Emergency Medicine Consultant in Taranaki, New Zealand.
Wavelength co-founder and Director Claire Ponsford talks to Dr Dirken about her career beginnings, her evolution from Paediatrics to Emergency Medicine and what advice she’d give junior doctors having second thoughts about their chosen specialty.
Take us back to the beginning of your career and the reasons behind your decision to become a doctor?
I grew up in Germany and both my parents are doctors. But until I finished high school, becoming a doctor didn’t seem very appealing as my parents worked crazy hours. When the moment came to choose something to study however it seemed like a natural choice. And I've never looked back. It's just such a great career in terms of people skills and fixing problems. And with just the right amount of biology and science.
Once you’d finished medical school in Germany what did you do next?
I completed six years of medical school followed by a year similar to a Trainee Intern (TI). We also had to complete another year which was like a halfway house between TI and House Officer. And then you're essentially a doctor in Germany. There are no other training ranks. I soon headed to the UK to become a House Officer in Paediatrics where I worked for five or six years becoming quite advanced at Registrar level.
How long were you in the UK for before you decided to explore New Zealand? What prompted your interest in looking for work overseas?
It was really just curiosity. I was a gypsy at heart, constantly moving and travelling. So that’s when I approached Wavelength and you sent me an interesting job description for a Paediatric Registrar based in Taranaki, New Zealand. Back then I had no idea where New Zealand was, not to mention Taranaki. After only two weeks I knew I didn’t want to go back to the UK. Life in New Zealand is really close to my heart. It's a small population with a lot of space. People are really interested to go out, meet each other and support each other and I love it.
You had the Registrar Paediatric job at Taranaki on a contract for 12 months. What happened then?
Because I had passed my British fellowship and become a fellow of the British College of Paediatrics, the Physicians Division of Paediatrics and Child Health, this was accepted in New Zealand as basic training. But I still had to pass exams so I went up to Auckland and joined the training program.
When I passed my exams, the gypsy in me decided I really had stayed far too long in one place and wanted to go somewhere else. And at that stage I approached Wavelength again to help me with a job, moving to Australia and becoming a fellow in Paediatric Emergency at the Mater Children's Hospital in Brisbane. I finished the Fellow job there and ended up doing another six months, half Emergency Medicine and Injury Prevention, and half Child Protection which was interesting.
I went from there to the Gold Coast to do a year of Adult Emergency Medicine. It was then I realised I’d found what I really wanted to do. I love working with children, but I enjoy the acute presentations. I like people coming to me, fixing their problems to various degrees and supporting them through a difficult time in their life.
I then went back to New Zealand as a Paediatric Fellow and did shifts in an emergency department. ED got an extra pair of hands and I got ED experience and I decided to finish my Adult Emergency training.
I’ve been here in Taranaki for two years now and I feel like I’m home. I’m settled on an Emergency Consultant contract and I’ve never been happier. For the last two years the thought of staying in one place actually seems very appealing. I have finally lost my itchy feet and stopped being a gypsy!
What would you say are the real high points of choosing Emergency Medicine as a career?
At the end of the day, it's all about medical skills. People come in, they've got a problem, you fix it. If that's your nature, you’ll love Emergency Medicine far more than any other surgical specialty.
The other thing is, it's an incredibly supportive environment. Here’s a really crazy example. If you go to a Paediatric conference, you will struggle to find childcare. It's often difficult to bring kids and you won’t find one breastfeeding room. If you go to the Emergency conferences I go to, however, it is assumed and expected that there will be a kids’ program alongside the adult program. The whole recognition of wellness and family orientation is far more prominent in Emergency Medicine and has evolved much more quickly than in other medical specialties.
I also really enjoy working with a huge team. You're always in a big family in the Emergency Department. You find people able to help out quite easily and that’s something I really enjoy. It takes the stress off the job.
What advice do you think you could give to others who are perhaps having second thoughts about their chosen career path or specialty?
At the beginning of your medical career, really ask yourself why you love what you do. We’re often led down one career path due to wider influences such as being close to home or being swayed by a mentor. I think it’s more about being true to what you really want to do.
Secondly, think about the practicality of your career path. There are some medical specialties you will only ever be able to practice out of big centres. And if you really don't like big centres, there’s probably not much point becoming a Cardiothoracic Surgeon, Neurosurgeon or Paediatric Emergency Specialist.
Thirdly, once you've gone down a certain road and you feel unhappy, change what you're doing. There's always some sort of adjustment possible, and I think the medical world is your oyster. I’ve come across Paediatric Neuropsychiatrists who became GPs because they found their work conditions completely unacceptable and absolutely thrived in a different environment.
If you're passionate about something and you start to lose the love or the heart about what you're doing, either change the system – which is difficult or change the job which is often a better solution.
It’s so lovely to hear you are back in Taranaki. It was a great place to start your medical career journey with us and to now continue your work.
Thank you for your time and we wish you all the best.
Pleasure. Thanks so much for everything Claire.
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