Iris Kwok (No. 1, 2000-04) is a trauma and orthopaedic surgeon working at the Royal London Hospital. She specialises in foot and ankle surgery, an interest borne out of her time at Roedean when she was a keen athlete and ballet dancer. Outside of work, she is also an enthusiastic photographer and her work has featured in The Guardian.
What is your favourite memory of Roedean?
It is hard to pinpoint a single favourite memory – I have plenty! The incredible view of the sea and the sunsets from our rooms, hours of dancing in the dance studio, Sport Days, etc. But also simple day-to-day things that we all took for granted in a boarding school, like going into each other’s rooms whenever we felt like it, sitting on each other’s beds sharing snacks whilst chatting for hours on end.
What was the best piece of advice you were given whilst at School?
I wouldn’t say there was a specific piece of advice. Rather, it was simply being in an all girls environment where no one ever got told you ‘couldn’t/shouldn’t do this as a career’. So the world was our oyster – we were given the freedom and resources to seek out our own interests and career path, and the infrastructure was there to nurture and support that.
When you were at Roedean, what did you want to be when you ‘grew-up’?
I knew I would enjoy something hands-on and medical. My first work experience in upper 5 was at a veterinary practice – I enjoyed it, but realised that I didn’t love all types of animals sufficiently to be able to do it for life. I subsequently did another work experience in a (human) hospital in Edinburgh, and it instantly opened my eyes to how amazing being a doctor was. I was totally inspired by the doctors I was shadowing – so Medicine it was!
What are you now you've grown up?
I’m a trauma and orthopaedic surgeon, i.e. a surgeon who fixes broken bones. I’m in my final year of specialist training, having been a practising doctor for 12 years. It’s my absolute dream job and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Before I had my daughter, I did a lot of photography as well (nature and wildlife are my favourite genres, although I do family and wedding photography too), and will hopefully get back into doing more when she grows up.
What does your job involve?
Operating on patients who come into hospital with broken bones – sometimes ones who have been involved in serious accidents and sometimes ones who need elective operations such as joint replacements. There is a lot of problem-solving, and we get to use power tools and lots of fancy implants – all great fun and hugely satisfying when you know you’ve ‘fixed’ someone.
It does involve early starts (on operating days I’ll be at the hospital for 7am) and moving around a lot during your training (to date I have worked in 13 different hospitals, from Oxford to Milton Keynes to London to Southend). But I do think these years of training in different places make you incredibly resilient – you learn to adapt quickly and cope well under pressure.
What have you done that you are most proud of?
I think firstly, getting into surgical training in London. Trauma and orthopaedic surgery was traditionally a very male dominated field (in the 90s only 3% of consultants were female, and even now that number is only 13%).
And secondly, sitting and passing my final specialist ‘exit’ FRCS (Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons) exams when I was 32 weeks pregnant.
What are the three objects you would take with you to a desert island?
I asked my husband what I would find indispensable – he said ‘your phone, your camera, and a family bag of Walkers Sensations’. That might actually be quite accurate.
What is on your bucket list?
Travelling-wise, places which are photography-heaven, like Bolivia, Antelope Canyon in the US, and Indonesia (particularly Komodo Island). All a little toddler-unfriendly, so that may have to wait a few years!
I’d also love to learn to sail and surf properly, and one day I’d like to try my hand at wood work (the running joke of orthopaedic surgeons being like carpenters!)
If you had one year and unlimited funds, what would you do?
Travel, travel, travel… with some fancy photography equipment. And maybe buy a dream house at the end of it.
A huge thank you to Iris for letting us chat to her for our August monthly alumnae interview! You can see Iris' photography work here.
Have you got an inspiring OR in mind you think we should interview next? Let us know at email@example.com.