UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering


Blog: Why I left my dream job

28 February 2019

This blog summarises a talk given by Associate Professor Julia Bailey at our ADAPT to Thrive event in February 2019. The event was a chance for senior researchers to share their experiences of 'failure' as an integral and inevitable part of the academic journey.

ADAPT to Thrive

Julia Bailey is an associate professor at the University College London eHealth Unit, and a speciality doctor in community sexual health. Her research focuses on sexual health promotion online, using a variety of research methods (qualitative field work and user engagement, epidemiology, online trials).

ADAPT to Thrive
IHE Director Dr Rebecca Shipley with our ADAPT to Thrive speakers Dr Julia Bailey, Dr Ivana Drobnjak and Professor David Hawkes (left to right).


Why I left my dream job 

This blog is a reflection on finding a role which feels right, with thoughts on listening to yourself when things don’t work out as hoped.

I had wanted to be a GP (family doctor) since I was 8 years old. With medicine as a very strong motivation, I dedicated myself to O levels (GCSEs) for 5 years, A levels for 2 years, medical school for 6 years, hospital training for 3 years, and GP registrar training for another year…

….. After 17 years of single-mindedly pursuing the job of my dreams, I became a GP!  I was very proud to be a doctor in Hackney, working alongside colleagues with such a strong commitment to improving health in a (then) very deprived area of London.

The GP role was very much as I had imagined it might be: interesting, varied, challenging, and rewarding.…. but  I felt very stressed and anxious, always mulling things over, long after the working day had ended. I had very little energy for life beyond work, and felt drained and short tempered. I thought that my stress and anxiety would settle as I became more experienced, and I worked as a GP for 5 years longer.

However, in the job of my dreams (25 years on from my childhood vision), it wasn’t feeling right….  

It was hugely rewarding, but I was still stressed and very self-critical, ruminating over clinical issues as well as the nuances of my interactions with patients, anxious to always do everything to the absolute best of my ability….  I am also poor at recognising names and faces, and I started to think that maybe I was not well suited to being a GP.

I had the opportunity to branch into different roles: I started working as a doctor in the first lesbian sexual health clinic in the UK, and analysed questionnaire and clinic data on STIs in women who have sex with women. It was very exciting submitting my first academic paper (on lesbians and cervical screening), checking the paper’s progress almost daily. I won the ‘Best Paper by a Practising Physician’ at the North American Primary Care Group conference for this piece of work.

Comparing my clinical and academic work, I noticed what tasks felt exciting, motivating, rewarding, and what felt difficult, draining, overwhelming ….. I noticed my mood, and my energy at work and out of work.

I paid attention to the feeling in my bones that general practice was not right for me.

I decided to resign from my GP job with considerable sadness, feeling very guilty about letting down patients and colleagues. I slowly, reluctantly, painfully let go of my dream, and let go of my identity as a GP.

I now combine academia with sexual health clinical work, and (mostly) absolutely love my work! I have three main roles: I am a sexual health doctor; I lead sexual health research; and I teach research and clinical skills. I wake up excited about the day ahead, am passionate about all three roles, and finally feel that I am in my dream job!


Twitter: @juliavbailey

UCL e-Health Unit



Julia's tips on how to find a role which resonates with your passions, skills and aptitudes

  • Try to reflect on and learn from every situation
  • Identify what’s wrong – can it be put right?
  • Get to know yourself
  • Trust your feelings – especially when they persist
  • Move on if things are not right
Success in academia is showcased and rewarded, but failure is an inevitable feature of academic careers, since the odds are stacked against job offers or successful grant applications for example. Julia's thoughts on analysing 'failure'