Wonderful Women Interview with Paediatric Oncologist, Dr Emma Johnson
Emma Johnson is an Associate Specialist in Paediatric Oncology at Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh. She is also the twinning lead for World Child Cancer’s programme in Ghana, helping to improve childhood cancer survival rates at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra.
Emma has worked as paediatric oncologist for over 20 years and has found her job to be rewarding and worthwhile however, her highlight has been volunteering with World Child Cancer for the past six years. Her voluntary work has now developed into a successful and amazing partnership between Emma’s department at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh and the children’s cancer wards in both Accra and Kumasi in Ghana.
Emma had breast cancer 20 years ago and realised how important it is to feel well looked after during her treatment.
Luckily for her, she was treated at a leading breast cancer unit in UK where every facility was available. This is not the case in developing countries. Staff are less well equipped and money is scarce for many families. Routine tests and drugs are not freely available. Some families travel hundreds of miles to receive treatment for their children and have no choice but to live at hospital for many months… away from home and unable to continue earning a living.
Emma knows that parents, children and staff feel afraid at times and now regularly volunteers her time to support children with cancer in developing countries such as Ghana.
Emma is now supporting World Child Cancer’s Stop the Childhood Cancer Clock appeal which aims to address the hidden catastrophe that every three minutes a child with cancer dies in a developing country.
This appeal is especially important as every donation made before December 18th will be DOUBLED by the UK Government meaning your support will go twice as far. Every child deserves the opportunity to grow up and you can help give the gift of growing up by donating at www.worldchildcancer.org/donate.
Describe a typical day for you?
Each day starts with breakfast at home with my husband and daughter (my son is now away at university). I go into work at the Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh, for 08.00 which starts with seeing the patients in the day care unit and some of the inpatients as well depending on which doctors are there. Later, I prescribe chemotherapy, check the children are fit for chemotherapy and organise tests and follow-up appointments. Following this I would go to theatre to perform a diagnostic bone marrow and lumbar puncture on a new patient just before breaking for lunch which is combined with time for checking emails!
My afternoons are much the same as the morning but also include writing prescriptions for outpatients, day care discharge summaries and finally checking more results. I usually leave for home around 4.30-5pm, in time for dinner with the family at home. After a trip to Book Group I treat myself to a small glass of wine, nice cup of herbal tea and piece of lemon drizzle cake…
What do you feel are your biggest achievements?
On a personal level, I am most proud of having a lovely husband, two super children and a home I love going to. Professionally, one of my proudest achievements is helping to increase childhood cancer survival rates from as low as 20% to over 60% at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, Ghana.
What’s in your handbag/ satchel?
Just a few essentials including my mobile phone, purse, glasses…that’s all!
What are your ambitions in life?
I love my family so my greatest ambition is to continue to enjoy the company of my husband, children and wider family and friends.
Outside of my personal life my ambitions include helping to improve the safety of the pathway through cancer treatment for all children. Having volunteered with World Child Cancer for over six years, one of my greatest ambitions is also to help bring to life our vision of a world where every child with cancer has equal access to the best treatment and care.
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know?
You don’t have to be a consultant to have a fulfilling and happy career.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
Hopefully doing exactly the same as I am now!
What advice would you give a budding doctor?
Work part time if you want to and spend time with those close to you. So many senior doctors say that the thing that they regret is not spending more time with their families and missing things like school events, children’s parties / activities.
I would also recommend that they spend some time working in a developing country as it is such a great learning curve.
When the opportunity arose to work with World Child Cancer as a volunteer, I was very keen to be involved and to use my experience to teach and train doctors and nurses in Ghana. What I was not expecting was how much I would learn from the professionals in Ghana.
I really believe that I have learnt as much from them as I can give back. They can now successfully treat childhood cancer in Accra with far fewer drugs, especially antibiotics, than what we use in the UK. I wish that all doctors in training were given the opportunity to work in a low or middle-income country.
What advice do you want to offer new parents?
Things will get easier, hang in there….
Finally, happiness is…
Enjoying the company of family and friends – those special unpredictable moments when everything feels right. On a simpler level, a cup of earl grey tea after a good day at work is something dreams are made of!