A day in my life… Dr Anu Obaro

Thursday 20 October 2022

Dr Anu Obaro
Consultant Radiologist, St Mark’s and Northwick Park Hospitals

Dr Anu Obaro is in the final stages of a PhD at UCL, focusing on radiologist performance in CT colonography for bowel cancer screening. This work has contributed to the implementation of the National CT Colonography Training and Accreditation Programme (NCTCTAP), of which she is the Online Training Lead. Anu is co-chair of the Independent Staff Insight Group (ISIG) at London North West Healthcare Trust and co-founder of RadReach, a widening participation programme for radiology and oncology. She is a passionate educator and racial equity advocate having presented talks on racism which have been viewed worldwide.

Every morning my alarm goes off at 4.50am and every morning, I immediately hit snooze. Why? No idea, but it somehow doesn’t feel right to say goodbye to a sweet slumber so abruptly. Eventually, I ease into the day around 5am(ish) and do my bible reading. My life goal is to consistently do this in my office, looking out on to the garden, with a fresh cup of tea, but the reality is that I’m usually still in bed, reading under the covers, trusting that God understands my heart is in the right place. Regardless of location, I need this daily quiet time to get my mind right and remind me of greater purpose. Then, after a quick scroll through the news (time limit set to 10 minutes, because self-care), I’m officially up. I try to recall if it’s my day to do the school run. Phew, today my husband has the pleasure, so I mentally cycle through six possible work outfits, decide on the one which requires least ironing, and get myself together.

Diary for the day

After grabbing my salad for lunch (hello, meal prep), I check my diary for the day. If I have meetings, deadlines, and my thesis to write (always), I take my laptop. If by some miracle I have no meetings, no deadlines, and no thesis to write (never), I can enjoy a lighter backpack. Headphones are a must since the commute is epic (one hour 40 minutes door to door, taking one train and three tubes) and I need music to channel my inner zen.

After double checking I have enough herbal teas to make it through the day, my phone charger, some luxurious hand cream, Apple Watch (otherwise the steps don’t count) and headphones (again), I head out.

I almost always leave home in a rush, and speed walk to the station while recording a voice note to one of various close friends I consider it appropriate to message before 7am. Of course, I’m convinced they love my rambling updates, musings on juggling the demands of life, work, parenting, and random venting about nonsense. I find it strangely therapeutic to record messages of encouragement or just a plain old rant for them to decipher and record a response to; a kind of voice note therapy, if you will.

Extensive to-do lists

Train #1 is the longest leg of my commute. Typically, I try to get some work done – thesis writing, article edits, compiling extensive to-do lists based on last week’s uncompleted lists and so on. However, if you’ve ever tried to work on a train to London Victoria, you’ll know that productivity levels are completely dependent on several factors – having a fully charged device, getting a seat, absence of offensive smells, optimum temperature, feeling like working before work… Today is a good day. I get some editing done.

After navigating through various stations with military precision and walking up and down numerous escalators (must get those steps in), I finally arrive at work.

Extroverted introvert

I genuinely love my job, but it’s taken me several years to recognise this. Radiology is an interesting beast. As radiologists, we get to work with people, but we’re also very independent. Just my name on that report? Oh ok then, gulp. I’m a gastrointestinal (GI) radiologist, so I’m generally interested in what’s happening below the diaphragm. I’m also involved in research, and I get to create, innovate and explore. It’s a great mix and blend which suits an extroverted introvert like me. As a newly appointed consultant (I took the scenic route via PhD land, post-CCT fellowship and two babies), it’s exciting to finally feel like I can put down roots.

Illustration of Dr Obaro examining radiology imagesToday’s morning session is CT colonography (CTC) reporting. Random thoughts as I work through the list include ‘I wonder if I’ll ever get faster at this, but what if I’m faster and miss stuff? But what if I miss stuff and I’m too slow? Hold on, is that polyp or poop? Urgh, too much residue in here, annoying. The inside of a colon really reminds me of the Grand Canyon, weird. Urgh, why are there so many diverticulae? Oops in small bowel – reverse!’

Quick break and I make the mistake of checking my emails, and there are many, many, many new messages. I open them all and feel instantly overwhelmed by everything that requires a response or decision, so do the only responsible thing and close my email.

Back to CTC reporting. For every scan I report, two more appear on the list. Sigh.

Breakfast doesn’t happen until I remember to eat something mid-morning. I make my first tea of the day followed by more CTC reporting and show some interesting cases to my colleagues. There is such thing as polyp joy, #geek.

Mind-bending tech challenges

My email pings reminding me of a meeting with the eLearning designer for the NCTCTAP. We’ve just launched our new online platform and it’s awesome. I’m proud of the digital campus we’ve built to deliver online CTC training. Currently I’m developing the interface to provide automatic feedback on radiologist CTC interpretations.

As radiologists, we get to work with people, but we’re also very independent. Just my name on that report? Oh ok then, gulp.

Sounds like it should be simple. It’s not. We discuss possible solutions to various mind-bending tech challenges after which we’re both more than deserving of some lunch. I eat my fancy (added smoked salmon), homemade salad. I feel very healthy, so of course eat three chocolate digestives right after to maintain balance in the universe.

More meetings over lunch – a catch up with the RadReach team and members of the ISIG (a Trust level group I co-chair to represent the staff voice on issues of equity and inclusion). Establishing my voice in racial equity has been an interesting journey. Co-creating RadReach with Hannah Tharmalingam and Jade Scott-Blagrove, specifically to address under-representation in radiology and oncology, and co-chairing the ISIG so that I can contribute towards improving staff experience at my organisation are two important roles I hold and thoroughly enjoy.

Since I’m not on MDT duty tomorrow, this afternoon is a combination of various ultrasounds (endoanal, elastography). This is when I get to see patients and remind myself that sitting in a dark room reporting 24/7, grumbling about inappropriate scan requests, does not a radiologist make.

I manage to have a quick tea between patients, banter with my colleagues (random conversations about bananas and intermittent fasting) and pseudo-check emails. I run away from them again. Once my list is finished, I tidy up some reports (how are there always a couple hanging around on my saved list?), decide to trust my eyes, take a deep breath, and authorise them all.

I leave work anytime between 5 and 6pm and prepare to check all emails on the journey home. Chastise myself for being a master procrastinator. Resolve to do better tomorrow.

Sticky kisses

I arrive home to be greeted by two over-excited sons. Get sticky kisses, fleeting hugs and breathless updates on their daily shenanigans. I then proceed to pick up laundry, toys, odd shoes and empty their backpacks of dirty clothes, rocks (?!), water bottles, stickers and books that should’ve gone back to the library weeks ago.

At 7.30pm we have family bible study with the boys, their grandparents (my folks) and my husband. Highlight of the day for all. Varying degrees of successful listening and focus (the kids, less so the adults). I attempt to answer startlingly insightful theological questions posed by the seven-year-old. I would love to say we achieve this every day, but the realities of life and work mean family time often gets curtailed (constant mum guilt about this). After bath time, the boys are tucked in bed and I’m back at my desk.

It’s 8.30pm and I’m finally addressing some of those emails. I try to be realistic and reasonable in the number of things I commit to doing, attending and presenting. It’s a struggle! I consider re-writing the work I edited this morning and remind myself that ‘done is better than perfect’. At some point each evening, my husband outlaws further rumination and encourages me to have dinner, chill out with him and catch up on the day’s dramas. I oblige. Eat. Drink more tea.

By about 9.45pm, I usually pretend to go to bed. Instead, I, of course, check more emails and watch an episode of Parks and Recreation. After which it’s about 10.30pm and my alarm is set for 4.50am, uh oh…

Further reading

This article is extracted from the Autumn 2022 issue of the RCR Newsletter. Members can access full issues