By seeing others at their most vulnerable, Rosalind O’Shaughnessy recognizes the preciousness of life. Glamorous, grounded, and light spirited, one would never think O’Shaughnessy runs one of London’s busiest emergency rooms. The emergency medicine physician, who runs a myriad of teams at a central London hospital, fell in love with medicine later on in life than most.. Born and raised in Hampstead, O’Shaughnessy is the daughter of a philosopher and psychoanalyst. As she was privy to their passions growing up, O’Shaughnessy internalized their philosophy—pursue career paths that excite you. After a medical emergency at age 27, she realized a hospital’s adrenaline-filled, madcap environment suited her. While her responsibilities are endless, overseeing junior doctors, meeting with her own patients, and guiding teams, she handles the stress with grace. The crazy bustle gets O’Shaughnessy going, yet the quieter moments are also terribly rewarding. Even in the midst of chaos, acute medicine serves as her source of contentment.
Do you think you’re wired in a different way than most to handle the stress of your job?
RO: Yes and no. A lot of it has to do with context. If I see a horrible car accident out in the street, I would still find it upsetting. If I didn’t, I would be worried that I had become a lesser human being. In an emergency room environment, my desire to help gets the best of me. You tolerate the situation so you can do something about it. There are scenarios that are upsetting beyond belief. After you deal, it’s important to reflect on them afterwards. Feeling upset is normal.
Does your job, and literally experiencing life and death on a daily basis, make you think about the preciousness of life more often?
RO: It makes me feel privileged. While you do develop a bit of a shield, I also often think, one day I will be on the other side of the room. I try to always remember how painful the suffering must feel. If I lost that empathy, I would have to give up my job. I always want to remember that I am so lucky to not be sick.
Excerpt from the forthcoming book, Word of Mouth: London Conversations, by author Lily Clayton Hansen