Meet the student juggling a medical degree with a professional football career

A Keele student has spoken of the challenges of training to become a doctor during the Covid-19 pandemic – all while juggling a professional footballing career.

All of Keele’s medical, nursing and healthcare students have stepped up throughout the pandemic to put their training into practice and help support the NHS, continuing their education while on the job.

But for Harriet Scott, a third-year Medicine student, this has come with the additional challenge of balancing her studies with a career as a defender for Birmingham City Women’s FC, a passion she has continued to pursue during her course with the support of the School of Medicine.

Harriet has seen first-hand the immense challenge faced by the health service in dealing with the pandemic, and says it has meant a huge adjustment for her clinical learning, saying: “It has been a really difficult transition. Third year has become much more clinical with much more time spent on the wards, and everyone has been incredibly busy.

“We’ve been seeing many more really poorly patients, and of course PPE has become much more commonplace. Lots of things have changed quite drastically and although it’s been difficult, we’ve seen a new level of determination during the pandemic, and I think we will have some really robust doctors and nurses coming out of this.”

Harriet balances the pressures of a medicine degree with her commitment to her role playing for Birmingham City, where she has played as a defender since 2018 and serves as Club Captain. Her footballing career took off after her first degree in physiotherapy, when she signed for Reading for her first professional contract, and has included international duty representing the Republic of Ireland on several occasions. Her passion for football started whilst playing for the local boys' team at 10 years old, and she recently racked up her 50th appearance for the Blues.

"Football is so important to me because it's a time I can forget everything else and just enjoy it,” she said. “It’s given me so many opportunities and I’ve been able to travel to various places for competition. I’m able challenge myself against some of the best players in the world."

The restrictions on professional sport during the first lockdown had a particularly big impact on her, and although she is now back to playing professionally with the restrictions on sport having been loosened, the disruption proved to be very difficult and she said that football had been a huge help during a difficult year.

“I found I had no direction during the break,” she said, “which was very difficult. I was very fortunate that my sport started up again, but it’s not quite the same as it ever was. For me, sport is a massive part of my life and I cannot imagine how people are dealing with not having their sport available to them. It’s definitely very important for me and my mental health.”

Harriet also praised the staff from both Keele’s School of Medicine and the football club, who have all worked tirelessly to ensure she can make the most of her commitments to her careers in both medicine and football, particularly with the pandemic.

She added: “The School of Medicine made sure that we were moving on while we were helping in the hospitals. The year leads have been really helpful and made it as seamless a transition as it could have been. The online content has also been relatively smooth and as good as it could have been given the circumstances.

“For me personally, every tutor, lecturer and year lead has always made sure that I was able to cope with the course. They would identify things that could go wrong and said ‘this is how we will support you’, and have always been very receptive, but they also want to graduate excellent clinicians. This means I’ve never been ‘let off’ with anything, and I appreciate that, and they have always tried to support me to make sure I did not miss out. They have been really supportive and helpful, and I would not have been able to do it without Keele helping me.”

This hands-on approach to teaching medicine at Keele is another aspect of the course that Harriet praised, saying: “The fact that the year size is relatively small means that I know my tutors and lecturers, and they hopefully know who I am! Having that interaction is really helpful. You can go to any of them with a problem and if they can help they will, and if not they will point you to someone that can help.”

Picture credit: Lewis Storey/Getty Images