Doctor, integrating wellness, striving for excellence.
It’s very well documented now that mental wellbeing and physical illness are directly interlinked. So it comes as no surprise that many medical professionals are integrating elements of mindfulness, not only into their own lives, but the way in which they provide care to their patients. Manon Jenkins may only be in the early stages of her medical career, but it’s already become a crucial part of her practice.
A passionate student, with a life-long craving to use her brains to help those who needed it most, Manon dove into her medical journey straight out of high school and hasn’t looked back. Thriving in the fast-paced world of emergency medicine, this UK national made her way to Australia three years ago to learn from some of the best intensive care doctors in the world.
I met this British beauty through one of my best friend’s at Rainbow Serpent Festival, where we bonded over costuming and the magic of the dusty dancefloor. We brought this friendship back to the streets of Fitzroy, where I’ve watched her grow and flourish in the in the gruelling Melbourne hospital system. On top of all this, she’s recently trained as a yoga teacher, to bring that aforementioned mindfulness to her work.
Currently working as a locum doctor, Manon spends a lot of her time travelling between hospitals across Australia that need her help the most. So it was great to catch some time with her to talk about the fusion of eastern and western medicine, learning and growing with the help of our indigenous community, and the thrill of intensive care medicine.
Manon Jenkins is…
I am the eternal student. I’m passionate, and loving and caring and always just want to learn about myself, other people and the world around me. That could be through travelling, exploring, finding new places and the new people in them.
What do you do and when did you decide this is what you wanted to do with your life?
I am a doctor, and I think you have to decide quite early on that you want to do it. I always liked the idea of applying science to get an outcome. I know it sounds really cheesy, but when that outcome is making someone else better, that’s something that makes it all worthwhile. There’s that notion that in interviews that you shouldn’t say you just want to help people, but that is why I went into it. I just wanted to help people.
I was also always inspired by older medics or people that weren’t just your usual doctor, those who use medicine as a passport to be able to help the people all over the world. I saw it as a job and a degree that I could use and apply, not just where I was, but anywhere.
Can you tell me about your journey as a doctor? Why make the move to Australia to practice?
I went to university in Wales and then moved across to Bristol, in England, to begin work as a junior doctor. And throughout that time started to develop more of an understanding about what sort of doctor I wanted to be. It doesn’t take long to realise what you’re good at and what you want to go to work for. I found that it was the critical care medicine, emergency and acute medicine that really excited me.
It was working with another doctor at a really interesting intensive care job back home, who said they were moving to Australia for a year to work in emergency and how emergency here was very different to England – it was more hands on and it was a bit more like what I would like. I moved to Melbourne in 2018 and I’ve been an emergency doctor here since.
You locum as part of your work – what does that involve and why is it important?
I initially chose to locum to more or less take a bit more of a break, because I was looking to take a bit of time off to travel. A lot of people I had spoken to used locuming as an opportunity to see the real Australia. So I thought, brilliant, I can take some time to see Australia while I work. But then unfortunately COVID happened.
In a way I think, despite not being able to travel, it’s worked out really well for me because I’ve worked a lot more than I was planning to, and therefore I’ve used it as a really good opportunity to gain more experience as a rural clinician. I have been able to work in some hospitals that are so rural and remote that you’ll be the only doctor there in the evening or overnight.
This is so beneficial when you’re learning, because you really need to know your stuff – you need to know how to deal with the situation and treat those sick patients independently. Working in a busy hospital in the city is good and that experience is great, but you’ve got a lot of senior support. But being the only available doctor and having a lot less people around you means you get so much exposure and opportunities to learn and improve.
I’ve been all over Victoria, some bigger, some smaller hospitals. I’ve been up to New South Wales as well, which is an amazing opportunity. But my favourite experience has been in the Northern Territory, in particular in Alice Springs. If I wasn’t locuming, I would have never had the opportunity to work with and treat the indigenous communities. It’s just such a privilege.
Yes it’s taken you to some quite remote communities; what was your experience like and what you got out of it?
It’s so incredible. The medicine is fascinating – you have third world medicine, but with first world resources, which, I mean, someone can correct me, but I doubt there’s many places where you can have that opportunity. So that’s just been incredible. I’m very, very lucky.
Do you think that from working with those remote indigenous communities, obviously you’re bringing your expertise in, but do you think you’ve taken knowledge away yourself from that experience that you will apply to the way that you work?
Oh yeah, never ending amounts. Not only have I gained the invaluable clinical knowledge, but I have seen firsthand just how differently you can work as a clinician, knowing the different ways to treat, your approach to each case and the importance of your clinical judgment. You also get to understand the communities a lot more, and you can start to know what you can provide to these families. It’s just a different way of applying the same medicine. And I’m sure I’m just using it naturally now.
Back to being the only doctor in rural towns, I can imagine that would have been quite challenging at times. Were there points where you felt overwhelmed, and I won’t stereotype you here, but you are young, beautiful woman – did you ever have experiences where people were like, Oh, you don’t look experienced enough to be the doctor?
Sometimes you do have to prove yourself. It’s never been maliciously, I think it’s because you do have to be that good. I’ve not found it as much actually in the rural hospitals, actually more in the cities where you have to really prove your worth because you are quite young female doctor.
I often get told I’m too young to be a doctor or I must be the nurse because I’m a female, but all you can do is prove that you’re worthy of running that department and you do gain people’s respect with time.
You said your passion or your interest was in intensive emergency situation, which I can imagine would be the last place a lot of doctors would want to spend their time. Why do you think that is that you enjoy it?
The cliché again is that I like working under pressure, in fact I think I flourish under it. When people are in an in a critical situation, I believe that’s when they are at their most vulnerable. To go back to what I said at the start about really making a difference in helping people, for me, that’s where I think I can really help the most.
There are a lot of practical skills, procedural skills, and quick knowledge that you need to use at that time. Not every person is the same, so you need to apply those skills differently. You don’t know what’s coming in through that door when the ambulance turns up, the way it’s going to be, how you’re going to treat them, what’s going to happen to them and how they’re going to end up. I know some people may hate that, but, I love that, I thrive in that environment.
Has your experience as a doctor changed, both with patients and your colleagues, since the pandemic?
Such a good question. The thing I struggle with is, if someone has tested positive or they’re suspected of being positive, you may have less of an interaction with that patient or they may be in an isolated room, with less contact with medical staff and family.
The way I’ve had to treat some patients has also been slightly different because of the access we now have. So for example, if you come in and you’ve got really bad chest infection or an exacerbation of your asthma, you normally use nebulized inhalers, but we can’t use them anymore due to increased risks of spreading the virus.
At the beginning, it was a really steep learning curve and it changed pretty much every day. But now things have settled a lot more and everyone kind of knows what to expect and who knows what they’re doing. So it’s definitely a lot better but we’re still constantly learning!
There’s been an extensively documented link between mindfulness and physical health and you’ve just trained as a yoga teacher – can you tell me about why you decided to train and how you’re looking to incorporate it into your medical practice?
My mum is a yoga teacher, so I think in the back of my mind I’ve always been open to the concept of mindfulness and breath work, and using yoga as a way to calm the mind. I moved to Melbourne and found a yoga studio around the corner, Good Vibes Yoga, to practice at. In those initial days, where I was so stressed, it was so crucial to my wellbeing. I say that I love that fast pace and the adrenaline rush, but it does still take a toll on you.
I found going to these yoga class so helpful to my physical and mental health – I always enjoyed the ‘asana’ or the movement in yoga but I started to understand and think a bit more about breath work and mindfulness. It opened my eyes to this world that I hadn’t really explored, something clicked and I was just fascinated by it. Yoga is perfect because it can be accessed by all and all of its aspects resonates with individuals differently. But I found that wasn’t always the case and believed I could make it more accessible and inclusive to everyone.
I was lucky enough to be able to complete my yoga teacher training this year, which is just one of the most magical experiences. I believe I still have a lot more to learn about meditation and yoga, but I love sharing what I know and teaching others. I love teaching. I’ve always enjoyed teaching medical students and junior colleagues at work, and I’m now really enjoying teaching my friends all the things I love about yoga.
Because of COVID, I’m teaching about three classes a week, and people are messaging me saying things like, “I felt so bad today, but you made me feel better”. And so I don’t have to be a doctor with medicine to help people. I think from now I will use this, not only to help myself, but to help other people combat life. If I can get you to feel a bit better whilst doing some exercise and meditation, then I’m doing my job. It’s also so lovely that you can be reminded that you are forever a beginner, as you can always learn, you can always get better.
We are all forever students in life. No one should or will ever know everything. So I don’t know how people ever think that they aren’t a student.
Yeah, exactly. You shouldn’t be a master of your own life.
What’s next for you, how do you envision the next 12 months?
I just want to just want to be in a bikini on a beach in the sun! But seriously, I’ve worked really hard of the last six months, so I think I’ll slow down the pace a little bit. Once things start to settled a little more, I’d like to practice and teach more yoga and hopefully start training in intensive care medicine.