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Dr Ben

The Patient Doctor

As a cancer patient turned doctor, I see illness from both sides.

At the age of twenty-eight, with his Beijing-based science communications business doing well and a new relationship blossoming, Ben Bravery woke from a colonoscopy to be told he had stage 3 colorectal cancer.

As a scientist, Ben understood the seriousness of his condition. Cancer had quite literally whacked him in the guts, after all. But what he didn't expect was how being a patient, and a young one at that, would make him feel. Why hadn't he been better prepared for the embarrassment and vulnerability of lying naked on the radiation table? Why wasn't he warned about the sheer number of tubes he would discover coming out of his body after surgery? Why did it feel like an imposition to ask doctors about his pain on their ward rounds? And why did he have to repeat the same information to them over and over again? During eighteen long months of treatment, including aggressive chemotherapy, Ben felt scared, overwhelmed, sometimes invisible and often alone.

Current Work:

As he recovered, it struck Ben that after everything he'd been through he couldn't go back to his former career. He needed a change - and he wanted to make change. He wanted to become a doctor. He passed the entrance exam and dived headfirst into the challenges of medical school - including an unrelenting timetable, terrifying ward rounds and the difficulty of maintaining compassion under pressure.

Now, driven by his experience on both sides of the healthcare system, this patient-turned-doctor gives a no-holds-barred account of how he overcame the trauma of his illness to study medicine and shares what he believes student doctors, doctors, patients and their families need to do to ensure that the medical system puts the patient at the very heart of healthcare every day.

Talking Points

Turning Towards Fear

In this talk Ben shares what it was like getting diagnosed with cancer at 28 years old and having life grind to a halt. After a year of cancer treatment, and many complications, Ben reflected on how illness had changed him. He decided to go back into hospital, but not as a patient.

Who is this for? Anyone who has faced challenges, health or otherwise, or has watched a loved one struggle with adversity.

Key Takeaways:
- Learning about the value of taking time out to reflect on purpose.
- How people can better navigate healthcare and communicate with doctors (and patients).
- How to ‘think big’ and follow your dreams.

Striving for Change

In this talk, Ben will share his journey from cancer patient to doctor. The jump from healthy person to cancer patient was out of his control, but the step from cancer patient to doctor was all his.

Who is this for?
People in healthcare or who work in other complex systems. Ben will explain how at each step in his process, from cancer patient to medical student to doctor, he identified problems and worked to solve them. Why do patients feel like slabs of meat sometimes? Why do doctors interrupt patients? Why is healthcare plagued by dissatisfaction?

Key Takeaways:
- Be inspired by someone who has turned adversity into opportunity.
- Have your perspective widened by thinking laterally about the status quo and provoking change.
- Have you healthcare experience validated and learn what patients and their families can do to level the playing field.


What happens when you lose faith in your body? And then in the system trying to save you?
In this talk Ben shares how a cancer diagnosis at 28 years old taught him the fragility of life. Facing his mortality, he embarked on cancer treatment and found a system that provided great technical care, but left him feeling lonely and afraid. After receiving the all clear, Ben re-trained as a doctor and lost trust all over again - this time it was medical education and a hostile healthcare system that let him down.

Key Takeaways:
- Empathy for people facing major illness and how to better support them.
- Awareness of challenges facing patients and doctors.
- Hope, and ideas, on how to restore trust in the patient-doctor relationship.
- The audience will leave with a better understanding of the experiences of healthcare from both sides.
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