A junior doctor who swapped her career to become a software developer says she’s found a new way to make a positive impact on the health of our nation in her new role.

Isabel Hall, who worked on the front line during the COVID pandemic, took the bold decision to swap medicine for computer science when she saw the potential benefits wider use of technology could have brought to the hospital.

Now – as a technology lead at EMIS, one of the UK’s largest health tech companies – she believes she will have positively impacted more lives than she would have as a doctor.

She said: “When I decided to take a year out to do a Masters, I planned to go back to work in medicine, but it soon became apparent that I was ready to try something completely new, that would be even more fulfilling.

“When I was at the hospital, I found it quite inspiring to hear about these amazing advances in tech, but we didn’t have access to them and I was noticing lots of places where tech could have made our lives so much easier.

She added: “Not only was the computer science Masters incredibly challenging and rewarding, but I could see the endless possibilities with what you could do to improve processes I’d seen in the hospital, like ordering bloods and sharing scans with colleagues in other departments.”

Isabel initially studied Medicine in Northern Ireland for five years and worked in hospitals in Belfast for three years before relocating back to the UK. She then worked at a hospital in Bristol for a year, before taking a break to complete a Masters in computer science at the University of Bath, which she said was immediately more suited to her ambitions.

She said: “The hospital was quite stressful at first, you had so much to learn and it was all about finding out solutions and developing your knowledge at a very fast pace. I liked the challenge of learning and problem-solving but once I got past that first intense stage the learning plateaued and I wanted more of a challenge.

“When I moved into computers the challenge of problem solving was set from the very first moment and is pretty much constant. There is always something that we are looking at improving through tech.”

She added: “It was very bizarre going from a busy hospital working 48 plus hours a week to just being at home in my study. But because I was really enjoying it, it was easy for me to apply myself. I started learning the very basics like how to write programmes and how that works, and by the end, my dissertation was all about using Artificial Intelligence to analyse brain scans – that was the first time my careers had crossed over and I really enjoyed it. It seemed to fit.”

Isabel, 30, took her first role as a software developer at EMIS and now works on the EMIS-X Analytics product Explorer, a query engine where customers such as GPs, NHS trusts and research companies can carry out research using data drawn from the local shared care record and population health.

This insight can then be used to analyse large amounts of health data, leading to better insights into disease patterns, treatment effectiveness and even the identification of potential candidates for vital clinical research.

Isabel added: “I still love the health and healthcare side of things, but the work I am doing now supports that in a different way.

“While I’m not working directly with the patient, we are processing data that goes towards forming a much bigger picture about the future of healthcare. When I was in the hospital, I could only see so many patients a day – now the work I am doing will go some way to affecting the future healthcare of thousands of patients.”

Originally from Aylesbury, Isabel now lives in Bristol with her partner Andy, with plans to relocate to Cardiff soon. She said: “Another benefit of the tech industry is that it’s much more in line with ‘normal’ working hours. Working as a doctor is very structured, you get your shift patterns, told which hospitals you can work in and there isn’t much flexibility, The great thing about EMIS is that we now have home-working so I can go wherever I want. It’s so much more flexible.”

Isabel believes more should be done to encourage bright students to consider career paths in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) areas.

She said: “I had an interest in how computers worked and how they were put together, but because I had good grades it was always made quite clear to me that medicine would be a good option. With hindsight, I think if I had I would have been interested if I’d been exposed to computer science as a career option.”

She added: “As well as having much more freedom to challenge myself mentally, EMIS is very good at encouraging work/life balance which is something I never had in medicine.

“There’s so much you can learn and so many directions. It feels a lot freer than medicine where there is a set career path. It’s about learning more, finding out what I really want to do and creating my own pathway. I’m excited for what’s next!”

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