Newnham College by Sir Cam
The traveller - Michelle Le Cheminant
Michelle Le Cheminant (Newnham 2003) tells us her alumni story.
The girls at Newnham became like a family and strong bonds were formed, friendships that will last a lifetime.
Growing up in the countryside, on the small island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, was an idyllic, if not somewhat sheltered existence. But even as a primary school child I had high aspirations and my heart was firmly set on attending Cambridge. It was an uphill struggle with many hurdles but I was determined to succeed.
The journey started at the tender age of ten years. I would sit for hours on end with 11+ practice papers. My family was not academic, and in fact I would be the first to take A-levels, let alone attend university. This thirst for knowledge was driven solely from within. The first barrier was overcome and at the age of 11 years I started at the Ladies’ College in Guernsey with a full scholarship.
Before healing others, heal yourself
As I commenced my first year of GCSEs, my goal of attending Cambridge was growing ever more tangible. But in that very same year another obstacle appeared to test my resolve. My good health, which I had always taken for granted, was no longer guaranteed. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune arthritis and for 18 months was too unwell to attend school. The uncertainty that surrounded that period of my life was almost unbearable. But it also provided inspiration and direction. With my condition stabilised I returned to school and three years later I applied to study medicine at Newnham College.
It was late September 2003 when I came up for the first time, an overnight boat journey followed by a bumpy trip up the motorway in an old army Land Rover. My grandfather unloaded all my worldly possessions (including a shiny new bicycle!) and so began my Newnham life.
A minor case of homesickness overcome, I fully embraced my new existence. I thrived on the academia and College lifestyle, studying and living with likeminded people from all over the world.
The contrast of an all female college within a mixed University suited me perfectly. The girls at Newnham became like a family and strong bonds were formed, friendships that will last a lifetime.
I look back fondly on my time at Newnham as one of the happiest periods of my life. A Cambridge education constantly seeks to challenge and fuel an inquiring mind. It instilled in me a passionate enthusiasm for lifelong learning, which has shaped my career.
The Big Smoke
I graduated from Cambridge in 2006 with a BA in Medical and Veterinary Sciences. In two minds as to where to undertake my clinical studies I eventually opted for a change and relocated to Kings’ College London. Three years later I obtained my Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) with distinction and commenced work as a junior doctor in North London.
In my late teens I had undertaken work experience in the anaesthetic department of the small island hospital in Guernsey. It was this speciality that would become my calling. Sixteen years later (and despite an ongoing battle with my disease) I am now a specialist registrar, about to commence the final year of my anaesthetic training programme.
Although I often feel the magnetic pull of my island home, my desire to explore the world and immerse myself in new cultures is overwhelming. My surname ‘Le Cheminant’ arises from Guernsey patois and its meaning, ‘traveller’, perhaps explains my wanderlust and why I now find myself in Africa!
I am spending six months at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia as a visiting lecturer in anaesthesia, working with the Zambia Anaesthesia Development Project (ZADP). At any one time there are four to six international anaesthetic doctors volunteering with this project.
ZADP began in 2012, supporting the training of Zambian anaesthetists. The country had an extreme lack of anaesthetists and hadn’t trained a single anaesthetic doctor since independence in 1964. Zambia is a country of 14 million people and three quarters of this population live in poverty. A third of all diseases will require some form of surgical treatment but there can be no safe surgery without safe anaesthesia. The shortage of anaesthetic doctors in Zambia has previously resulted in a number of deaths due to lack of access to safe surgery.
Volunteering in Zambia
My role involves teaching Zambian doctors enrolled on a four year training programme in anaesthesia. Our focus is patient safety; we provide clinical teaching and support the doctors to undertake research and quality improvement projects. Our hope is that these doctors will go on to become the healthcare leaders of the future in Zambia.
Working in Zambia is proving to be full of challenges but incredibly rewarding. I’ve no doubt that volunteering in a resource-poor setting is a valuable experience for any doctor and I am sure that the skills I’ve acquired will be of benefit to our own healthcare system upon my return.
I’m very grateful to Newnham College, which even now continues to be part of my life and has supported me in this project with a travelling scholarship. This financial backing has been invaluable and is just one of the many alumnae benefits available to Newnhamites.
I have recently volunteered for the young alumnae mentoring scheme at Newnham and am looking forward to contributing to College life by providing advice and support to students entering the medical profession.
Michelle obtained a BA in Medical and Veterinary Sciences and attended Newnham College.
If you would like to submit your own alumni story, send us an email for details of our submission guidelines.
This article has been written by Michelle Le Cheminant and the opinions expressed are those of the author.