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Former Northants man recounts remarkable 10-year journey into medicine.
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A year like no other has seen hospital wards across the country stretched to the limit as medical professionals have strived to keep the country afloat throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
Through it all, former cricketer-turned-doctor Vishal Tripathi, 32, has continued to complete his medical training during one of the most challenging periods in the 73-year history of the National Health Service.
The former Northamptonshire man, who made 17 professional appearances, has undergone a remarkable career change with the help of the PCA as he swapped stumps for scrubs to become a junior doctor at the University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, after leaving the game in 2013.
It has been far from plain sailing for Tripathi, however. He has undertaken a gruelling training programme, resulting in mental health challenges which he opened up about in a special video for the Professional Cricketers’ Trust to coincide with Vitality Blast Finals Day in support of the players’ charity.
For issue 29 of our membership magazine Beyond the Boundaries, the PCA’s Head of Communications Luke Reynolds travelled to the north east to find out more about Tripathi’s journey, the challenges he has faced, and the path he sees himself following in the future.
- Talk us through your career in professional cricket.
- I first started playing at a very young age, and quickly got picked up by Lancashire in the U11s, before moving my way up through the age groups there. I got into the Academy, did well there and then got a summer contract which unfortunately wasn’t renewed after one year.
- After that, I went to university, before moving to Northamptonshire and signing a full-time professional contract. I was there for one season, trying to chase the dream by trialling around, but it wasn’t to be for me.
- Was a plan B on your mind when you were trialling?
- My main thought process was to get back into the county game after leaving Northants – I felt like I still had a lot to give.
- However, once that full-time deal didn’t happen, I felt that I should put a plan B in place. Three years after I left Northants, when I was aged 25, I decided that I should broaden my horizons.
- How did you cope with leaving the game on a personal level?
- Coming out of the game is difficult to come to terms with – I really felt like I had lost my identity. You also see people you have played alongside doing so well in the game – I played with and against a lot of the guys who were involved in the 2019 Cricket World Cup win. Retiring was one of the toughest pills I’ve ever had to swallow.
- How did you go about searching for a new career path to take?
- I had a friend who was a medical student at the time, and she said to me when we were chatting after a game one day that I would make a good doctor. That conversation had a big impact on me, because it made me believe that this was something that I could pursue.
- My grandfather was a doctor and he was my biggest inspiration, but he unfortunately became unwell when I began studying. Medicine was my way of carrying the baton when my he passed away.
- Not many cricketers go into medicine after leaving the game. Have you surprised yourself by getting to where you are now?
- I didn’t get good GCSEs or A-Levels – you could spell the word fudge with the results I got! Going into medicine isn’t about that though, it’s about you as a person, whether you’re willing to put up with the setbacks and put in the hard yards to achieve your dream of getting into the profession.
- The stereotype is that you have to be the smartest person around to study medicine, and there is an academic standard that you need to maintain, but the reality is that it’s not just about that. I’m passionate about getting sportspeople into medicine because of our conditioning and what we learn during our careers.
"Having an impact on someone’s life makes you humbled, and for that reason I think it’s more special than playing cricket for the rest of your life."
- What transferable skills do cricketers have that could help them in a hospital setting?
- We’re dedicated, used to doing a lot of training, work well in a dressing room with different personalities all of the time, and there are also a lot of leadership skills. For me, however, the main thing is coping with setbacks. Those skills are worth their weight in gold and we’re very lucky to have them and to be able to transfer them into careers like medicine.
- Can you explain more about the process of becoming a doctor?
- Personally, I had three years of working around healthcare, including volunteering and gaining exposure. It put me out of my comfort zone but it was the biggest learning curve I’ve ever been on. It was also the most humbling thing I’ve ever done – putting someone else’s needs firmly ahead of yours.
- I then had to enrol on a six-year medical degree because of my lack of science knowledge, meaning it has taken ten years to get where I am today, and I’ll have another ten years of getting to where I want to be.
- How challenging has that process been for you personally?
- During second year of med school, I was living on my own and finding it so hard to cope with the workload. I felt useless and dumb, and I didn’t have the friends around me that I’d had in the cricket environment. One night it got to 2am and I just cracked – my mind went into override. I opted to pick up the phone, spoke to the Professional Cricketers’ Trust’s Confidential Helpline, and from there everything’s been on the up. I still do have dips, but I’m better at coping with them now because I have the right tools in place.
- What support did you receive?
- I’m very lucky to be in the position I’m in and to have had the support of the Trust throughout my journey. After calling the helpline, I got Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which involved one-to-one conversations with a psychotherapist. We talked about what I had been experiencing and stripped it all back to understand why I was reacting in the way that I was. I had about 15 sessions to get the help that I needed, and it was the best 15 hours I’ve ever spent.
- Are you passionate about getting more players into medicine?
- I would definitely encourage people to consider whether it is for them, as sportspeople make the best doctors. People leave cricket at different times, and I appreciate that it means different sacrifices depending on your circumstances.
- Having said that, I think if I had gotten into medicine earlier, it would have made me a better cricketer, because I would have had that realisation that I’m not playing for a contract or career, and that I had something else to go on to.
- Have you retained that same buzz you got from cricket?
- It’s an even better buzz. Even though you don’t have 20,000 people watching you, it’s a feeling of being part of a machine in the NHS and keeping the country afloat, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. Having an impact on someone’s life makes you humbled, and for that reason I think it’s more special than playing cricket for the rest of your life.
- What has your experience of the pandemic been like?
- It’s been heart-breaking to see people of all ages getting seriously ill and losing their loved ones. I’ve had personal loss as well, losing my grandparents to Covid-19.
- Professionally, my role during the pandemic was just to be a cog in the works and help out where I could. I was redeployed to intensive care to help turn patients, support nurses and be helpful in any way I could. If that meant getting the coffees in, then that’s what I would have to do.
- How has it been to experience it so early on in your career?
- It’s been incredibly busy and very different to what I experienced during med school. In the winter months things get even busier, but we’re well-equipped and we’re ready to face the challenge. The pandemic will go away one day, but then other things will crop up and it’s just about learning how to deal with it and get through it.
- What does the future hold for you?
- One of the most exciting things about medicine is the diversity of career options. I’m currently a junior doctor which gives me a taste of a lot of different things, including paediatrics and cardiology, for instance.
- Looking forward, I fancy myself as a bit of a surgeon and I want to be involved in real life acute situations. I then want to move on and get involved with the community as a GP, where you run your own practice from a position as consultant.
- It’s a long career, but it’s exciting because you get to decide what you want to do in the longer term and it’s completely up to you depending on what interests you.
- What support have you had from the PCA throughout your journey?
- The PCA has helped me with every part of this, I don’t think I’d be where I am without them. It’s not just the support side of things but also the funding side of it. I’ll forever be grateful and if I ever become a consultant or a GP I’ll look back at the PCA and remember that.
- What’s your message to players in terms of the funding that’s there?
- There aren’t many funding opportunities for professional cricketers, but the PCA offers it for a reason, and when you’re committed to something like I was the PCA will support you every step of the way. With the financial backing that they’ve given me and my family, I’d recommend it to any cricketer and their family.
- My Personal Development Manager Matthew Wood has seen my ups and my downs and been there, not just as someone I’ve been working with, but also as a friend. He’s always been the first person I’ve gone to when I’ve had struggles with my mental health, and it’s so nice to have someone there who’s not related to your career who can help you and see where you’re really at.
Futures Week shines a light on the area of personal development and career transition among PCA members. The two-day Futures Conference forms the centrepiece of the initiative and both are part of the PCA’s Personal Development and Welfare Programme (PDWP). Click here to find out more.