As one of the young doctors standing on the cusp of such exponential change in the ever-evolving field of medicine, I firmly believe that it is crucial to embrace innovation and constantly challenge the status quo. By thinking collectively, by thinking critically, by thinking outside the box and pushing boundaries, we can pave the way for ground-breaking discoveries and advancements that have the potential to revolutionise healthcare.

I believe that the way we think today has a profound effect on shaping our tomorrow. Our thoughts influence our mindset, attitudes, and actions, which ultimately determine the path we take in life, so I have embraced positivity, set meaningful goals, and have endeavoured to cultivate and build a strong sense of self-belief to prepare me to be an effective team player in the healthcare system of tomorrow.

My desire to be one of tomorrow’s surgeons has challenged me to pursue research that involves new and innovative technologies that can be implemented in an ever-progressing surgical field as well as furthering medical education, something that I know we all feel passionately about. Just last week I co-ordinated a pilot study using Smart Glasses technology by a company called Rods and Cones. The Smart Glasses technology was worn by a trainee surgeon whilst she operated allowing her to connect and communicate with a remote proctor, a Consultant General Surgeon who was located on site in one of our state-of-the-art imaging suites.

The proctor as well as twenty medical students from Queen’s University Belfast and Royal College of Surgeons Ireland were able to see the live feed of the surgical field through the surgeon’s lenses. Support to the operating surgeon was given through real-time communication and the use of annotation using augmented reality technology. The technology allowed us to simultaneously show the visor feed, a panoramic view of the operating room as well as the imaging transmitted through the laparoscopic camera. This pilot study has enhanced and revolutionised the teaching experience of our students within these three short days. The feedback we received from our students will be instrumental in shaping how we embed this teaching initiative going forward with some of the cohort recognising, even in its infancy, that this is the future of surgical teaching. By thinking about this today we are transforming the education of tomorrow’s doctors.

The opportunity to pioneer this innovative technology stemmed from my involvement in a research project that myself along with four fellow doctors from across Europe and Canada worked collaboratively on and pitched a successful bid for funding from the European Association of Endoscopic Surgery at their annual conference in June 2023 in Rome. I look forward to returning to the international stage in Maastricht in a couple of months to present these findings that emerged from a small teaching hospital in the most rural part of Northern Ireland.

Involvement with this project has allowed me to continue my own learning and up-skill myself as in a world where technology is evolving rapidly, the concept of a static skillset is outdated, and I perceive continuous learning as a survival strategy within this period of transformation in health.

Working on the Smart Glasses technology allowed me to surround myself with a thinking community of like-minded professionals as real transformation comes about when a diversity of views is taken into account.

In tandem with technological advances, artificial intelligence is revolutionising the future of work and is particularly effective in laparoscopic and robotic surgery where video screens can display information and guidance from AI during the operation. AI can analyse surgeries and potentially provide decision making support to the surgeon as they are operating, thereby ensuring patient safety and improved surgical outcomes. It is used to enhance precision, efficiency, and safety of the procedure. During my elective in the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin I was privileged to spend time with the hepatobiliary and colorectal teams who specialised heavily in robotic surgery. I was able to see first-hand how a robotic surgical platform is an already highly advanced technological environment that continues to evolve and revolutionise the practice of tomorrow’s surgery with the use of AI only serving to augment it further where humans and AI work side by side in a collaborative arena.

The rise of AI will lead to the need for a skills evolution in the workplace. The emphasis will shift to human skills such as creativity, problem solving, emotional intelligence and critical thinking in addition to our clinical skills, therefore, medical education programmes must evolve to take account of this if they are to remain fit for purpose in nurturing the doctors of tomorrow.

The teaching and training of medical students is crucial across the province but for a small hospital like South West Acute which depends on its many students returning as qualified doctors to sustain a local, well-trained, and highly competent workforce. The temporary withdrawal of Emergency General Surgery from the South West Acute Hospital in 2022 posed a challenge of ensuring teaching continued to meet the needs of the curriculum standards of the universities. I recognised these challenges as an opportunity to instigate and design a surgical teaching programme that entailed the return of retired and visiting surgeons, junior doctors, and the wider multi-disciplinary team contributing to the education of our students- such creative thinking today leaves a legacy of a model that brings a deeper learning experience with improved educational outcomes.

Today’s thinking and transformation of tomorrow is not exclusive to our medical practice. We must understand the importance of finding healthy equilibrium between professional responsibilities and personal well-being. A balanced life today will lead to a happier and more fulfilled healthcare provider of tomorrow.

A well-known female American surgeon, Ms Jamie Coleman, once quoted, ‘my best advice is to stop thinking of work and life as a balance as that implies they are opposing forces and will only set you up to fail.’ She went on to say, ‘surgery doesn’t stop my life and my life doesn’t stop surgery. I am a better surgeon because I am a wife and a mother. And I am a better wife and mother because I am a surgeon.’

Modern thinking supports Ms Coleman’s view and the traditional concept of work life balance will gradually have to give way to a more adaptable and realistic approach known as work-life fit if we are to retain a sustainable workforce. This shift is being driven by a range of factors including changes in technology, employee expectations and a growing recognition that the rigid boundary of today’s work life balance may not be sustainable or attainable for many individuals.

The work life fit differs from the traditional work life balance in that it does not segregate work form personal life but blends the two in a way more seamlessly allowing employees to customise their work schedules to better align with their personal lives. Healthcare must recognise that a one size fits all approach will not work in tomorrow’s world and that flexibility and employee well-being must be prioritised – this may mean a healthcare labour market characterised by even more short term or flexible contracts – all challenges for management teams but a realistic prospect.

By embracing innovative ideas, forward thinking approaches and a collaborative mindset we can shape a better future in the field of medicine.

Take action, challenge the status quo, maintain a positive mindset, foster adaptability and seize every opportunity that comes your way. Above all, don’t forget that by thinking critically we have the power to transform tomorrow for the better.

Grace Kettyle is a Foundation Year 1 Doctor, at the Respiratory Ward in South West Acute Hospital. This is an excerpt of an address she gave at the Ulster Medical Society's annual Presidential dinner last week at Queen's University, Belfast.