Sarah Honess - Doctor

Dr Sarah Honess describes working within a Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) as the 'Everest' within the field of emergency medicine. Earlier this year she undertook the London 2 Brighton Challenge, an epic 100K quest, raising over £1,000 for the air ambulance that she works for. Not only did she complete the challenge, she also attended 5 patients involved in a multi-vehicle road traffic collision en route. Read her fascinating interview below.

Describe your journey to becoming a member of the KSS air ambulance crew?

Well it’s been an ambition for a while; in terms of emergency medicine it’s certainly regarded as the ‘Everest’ within that field. I didn’t have the most conventional path into the role as my first degree wasn’t actually medicine. I was a teacher before I decided to completely change career paths. I started medical school at Kings College London and began working with the Kent, Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance just over a year ago, in August 2015.

Do any particular moments from your time here stand out as ‘highlights’?

The overall highlight has to be the teamwork aspect; you are working with some incredible people every day. It’s not just the clinicians though, there are really outstanding people throughout the entire team, from the guys downstairs in the charity team to the governance leads and everyone in between.

What would you say was the most challenging aspect of working for an air ambulance service?

I think as a hospital clinician, it has to be managing a completely unfamiliar pre-hospital environment. You’re used to working somewhere that is safe, dry, warm, lit and with all the equipment available to you. On board an air ambulance you are responsible for sourcing, cleaning and organising the medical supplies yourself, so you have a much more limited role, generally speaking, in hospital medicine. Even in emergency medicine which is the most unpredictable field, it still feels unbelievably controlled compared to what we do here. When you take all those familiar factors away and you’re left with is yourself and a paramedic in a dark, muddy field  it’s a totally different story.

You recently undertook the London 2 Brighton Challenge - talk us through the decision to take on the epic 100K quest?

I’ve done quite a few marathons and triathlons so it was really just a case of looking for the next big challenge.  In a moment of stupid bravado I signed up for it when it was far enough in the future to seem like a good idea! It’s actually very difficult to train for something like this because you can’t really replicate that kind of distance. Unlike training for a marathon, you don’t really know what to do!

Now you’ve completed the run, tell us about how it went and your thoughts and feelings about the challenge?

Well, it was very long...! The challenge starts at Richmond Park in London and finishes at Brighton racecourse so it's a huge distance. I didn’t actually have the best start to the challenge; I headed to Richmond the night before and my train up to London was cancelled, then I discovered that I had booked my hotel for the wrong night! When I completed it I felt exhausted; the whole event is off-road, which I wasn’t expecting. With a marathon you are on a road, on a predictable surface. This was uphill, down dale, through mud, over stiles and through forests. You can’t zone out like you can in a marathon, you have to stay focused at all times. So from that perspective it was much tougher; the miles felt like they look much longer. Unbelievably, during the challenge I came across a multi-vehicle road traffic collision, so I stopped along with a nurse and a firefighter also taking part. There were 5 casualties, all of which I attended, and despite the seriousness of the incident, fortunately they were all okay and the HEMS crew wasn't dispatched.

How did it feel raising over £1,000, an incredible amount of money, for the air ambulance service you work for?

I was really keen to give something back to the air ambulance whilst I was still working here, other than my own blood, sweat and tears! That was a really important factor for me; as well as being a personal challenge, I also know how much it costs to train a doctor for example, so I felt I was giving something back. I also couldn’t believe how generous people were, so I would like to say a big thank you! I am massively grateful for the amazing support I received.

What kept you motivated and what would you say to people considering taking part in a challenge event for the air ambulance?

Generally, I think it’s important to push yourself to your limits and challenge yourself. Of course people are also more likely to support and sponsor you if you do something demanding and put yourself through suffering! What kept me motivated, personally, was thinking of a friend who has cancer. I thought to myself: ’if this hurts, at least I know when it’s going to end’. I thought of all the people who are either injured or ill and don’t have a choice about how they are feeling so really it’s a small thing to go through a few hours of pain and discomfort. These challenges are definitely worth doing, you get a huge sense of accomplishment. I was actually just looking at the Channel Swimming website, so watch this space!

If you are interested in taking part in a challenge event and raising funds for the Kent, Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance, click the link below:

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