“I feel privileged to have built my career at the Trust, and proud to call my place of work my local hospital”

Consultant research physician Dr Sonya Abraham has spent most of her working life at the Trust, building a career in rheumatology and balancing caring for patients with driving forward innovative research.  As a West London resident, her place of work is also her local hospital. Nearly 20 years into her career at the Trust, she tells us why she loves her job more than ever.

I felt privileged to join Charing Cross Hospital as a trainee back in 2001, when I was appointed as a lecturer in rheumatology and general medicine. Even back then, I witnessed both amazing clinical care and excellent integration with clinical research.

Charing Cross Hospital was home to a landmark discovery in rheumatology. Anti-TNF (tumour necrosis factor), a ground-breaking treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, was discovered at Charing Cross by Emeritus Professor Sir Ravinder Maini and Professor Marc Feldmann.

Anti-TNF therapy was approved by NICE for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis in 2002, so it was our privilege to watch as the treatment transformed the lives of our patients at Charing Cross. We used to see lots of people who were in wheelchairs or couldn’t walk properly, and thanks to anti-TNF, we don’t see that very much now. It is really extraordinary, and I saw that when I was “growing up” as a young physician.

In 2008, when our current Trust was formed and we became the UK’s first Academic Health Science Centre, even more opportunities opened up to us in translational medicine. 

My local hospital

One of the reasons I’ve stayed with the Trust’s hospitals over the years – first Charing Cross and now Hammersmith – is that I truly believe we bring together a sense of community spirit with world-class research and care.

I’ve lived in west London since 2001, so the Trust’s hospitals are not just my workplace; they’re my local hospitals too. It’s wonderful to live in the community I serve, although it does mean I bump into patients on my day off now and then!

My son was born at Queen Charlotte’s & Chelsea and the care and compassion of both the maternity and neonatal teams was just amazing. It was so humbling to be a patient here. I think we should all be patients in the hospitals we work in – it enables us to think in a different way about the care we give, because we really understand and share the experiences of our patients.

It’s been a real privilege to live and work in west London for so long. It’s given me the chance to watch some of my patients grow up. I’ve known some of my patients since I was a trainee, and some are now having families of their own. When I started, we couldn’t imagine those opportunities for our patients, but the transformative nature of the medicines we have – and the huge role our hospitals played in their development – means that these people can now live well, on their own terms, and build families of their own. 

"We should all be patients in the hospitals we work in"

Overseeing clinical trials

In my current role as a consultant research physician, I spend most of my time overseeing clinical trials at the Imperial Centre for Translational and Experimental Medicine (ICTEM) at Hammersmith Hospital. We’re really trying to marry up care, education and research. 

I spend much of my day looking after patients on our research ward. We have to observe patients on trials extremely closely – even the smallest change in their condition must be recorded and observed. This means I spend a lot of time getting to know my patients and understanding how their condition affects their lives. This gives me excellent clinical insight, but I find it very personally rewarding too.

I’m always struck by the altruism of our patients and trial volunteers. Our patients join clinical trials knowing they are unlikely to see any immediate benefit – they join trials so they can help other people. It’s very inspiring.

After nearly 20 years here, I’m still inspired by my work and see so much potential in our hospitals. I hope my colleagues share my passion – to me, the Trust is like home.

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