Penny loves listening and communicating in all aspects of her life and with everyone who comes in to it. In Episode 14 of the Authentic Tea podcast, Penny shares her thoughts on health, lifestyle choices and how to make science accessible to all.
So today I'm super excited to chat to my dear friend, Penny, Penny, and I shared many ups and downs in our early twenties, as we navigated life and tried to carve our own paths, my overwhelming sense of Penny is someone who truly cares, she cares for herself, the people dearest to her and it's open to everyone who comes her way. Penny has always been able to find a way to share the joy in life and communicates this so simply and beautifully to others. Penny started a blog, medical marbles. So us working as a GP and then launched her podcast, Naked Health to strip back medicine to the basics. She's also been a member of the Copperfield medical advisory group and uses her awareness of listening and communicating, to share messages for people to take control of their own health. She works hard to ensure that we hear everyone's voices and to keep communication at the heart of everything she does. So welcome Penny.
Thank you for having me.
It's fabulous to have you here. So let's start by talking about podcasts because I think your podcast Naked Health actually inspired me to give this podcast a go. On your podcast, you share the voices of people who have experienced cancer and have also gone through cancer treatment. How do you think that sharing their stories can help other people? And why was it so important for you to start your podcast?
That's so sweet that you, you said that it inspired you. I think it's something that I've always wanted to do, but I've never been brave enough. And actually my first episode was during lockdown and I kind of, kind of felt that I needed to do something different and I had time. So I thought, you know, the worst thing I could do was not give it, give it a go. And actually if I recorded it and then only me listen to it, then, then that was fine as well. And the idea really came from I'm sure a lot of people and you included are used to during your training, your medical training, hearing people using a lot of jargon, or if you're breaking bad news to a patient or their relatives, they, they don't necessarily understand exactly what you're trying to say because you're trying to be kind and in trying to be kind to them, you're using, using soft words like for cancer, a lump's been found, or there's a growth, or there's a shadow on your lung.
And to me, I kind of think health, there's nothing better than being healthy and feeling healthy. And it's such an important thing for people to understand what's happening with their body. That it was really annoying me that people would come out for consultation being told there's a shadow on the lung and not know that they probably have lung cancer because actually I think each individual needs, needs time to come to terms with whatever the diagnosis may be and chat it through and do their own research. So, so that's where it came from. I just wanted people to be told in a voice that they could understand what was wrong with them. So, so they knew themselves what, what was going on
You shared there about feeling healthy and the importance of being healthy. Can you share how that, that actually impacts your life? What are the things you like to do to feel healthy?
Oh, it's tough. Isn't it at the moment? Um, to, to feel healthy for me is to actually get out of bed and enjoy the day ahead, and to feel like you're ready and prepared to, to enjoy the day ahead. And I think a lot of that comes, comes from mental health as well as physical. So I know we spend a lot of time talking about exercising and eating well and maintaining a good weight and vitamin supplements and things. But actually, if you don't feel happy then in your head, you're not going to feel healthy. And actually that has a knock-on effect physically as well. And a lot of people don't seem to connect the heads and the body, but definitely, but with the current pandemic, I think more people are realizing the impact of isolation on their mental health and how that's having knock-on effect on diet and exercise.
We know at the moment, obviously, we're in the middle of the pandemic, so we can't go to too many different places, but if you were able to go somewhere and to be your true, authentic self, where would that place be?
Do you know if there were, there were loads of things that are probably a good or a right answer from a doctor, but I want to be at the beach. I want to be somewhere hot, somewhere sunny. Um, I love the sound of water. I find it really soothing, but I love seeing kids play in the sea and completely, you know, they, they just don't care if people are watching or what people think of them. Like, I, I love the beach. So that is exactly where I'd be. And if it was a specific beach, I'd be in San Diego.
Sounds amazing. Lets all go when we can,
Think your example at the beach is about connecting to nature as well. Isn't it. And what you feel like you say about the sounds of nature and the visions that you see and taking those in the external stimuli, how do you also like to make sure that you connect with yourself so that you are listening to what you need?
I'm really bad at that! I have to say. Um, I think I'm so busy trying to listen to other people and you know, that that's not just patients, my husband, my kids, people who pop up on social media as well as asking questions that I'm really, really bad at taking time for myself. The best thing for me to do is really just to stop thinking and I know that hard but for me it's to find a book or to find some distraction that allows me to concentrate on, on something that isn't myself. So to take me, I guess, remove me from my own internal monologue, monologue or environments, and actually step away from it all.
So much of our communication is that internal monologue, like you say, a lot of us have ongoing thoughts all the time. And I had, even when we think we're being still and silent, actually, we're not, we're having all of these what's this what's on the to-do list. And it is like you say, taking yourself away from that, isn't it. And finding that piece of quiet, however, that is with a book, with exercise, with being outdoors, it's having that moment and that time just for you so that you can be still. Do you think that the way that you've learned how to communicate with patients has changed the way that you communicate also with other people in your life? So for your family, are there ways that you try to be more present with your communication with them?
Yeah, I think so. I definitely find it easier to put myself in somebody else's shoes. And if, for example, I'm talking to the kids and I feel myself getting annoyed or frustrated because they're perhaps not doing what I think they should be doing. I try to then imagine that I'm them, that I'm a 10-year-old boy. So I just take a step back then, and I'm a lot quicker to apologize and to say, actually, I'm sorry. I probably didn't say that right. Or my expectations were a little bit too high of you and this is actually what I meant, but should we sit down and chat about it first or have a cuddle
The conscious communication that you're talking about, I think is just so crucial because if we can just take a step back from what we're actually just about to say, or sometimes we say it and then sometimes you think, why did I say that that wasn't, I want to say something different, but it's that separation, isn't it between our actions and our thoughts and just giving ourselves that time to be a bit more conscious with how we communicate with people around us. Are there things that you say maybe even with the kids, are there little daily, like mottos or mantras that you like to kind of keep that give you all that sense of positivity, particularly now that we're in a time where restrictions are around us and we can't do everything we want to do.
I suppose the concepts are always fairly similar, but I've actually got a tattoo on my site that says the words be soft. That's from Kurt Vonnegut's. And to me, that that actually means and symbolizes quite a lot. And I had it done a few years ago and I think, I think it was when there were quite a few terror attacks and I had it done because the rest of the passage is 'be soft do not let the world make you hard'. And I actually, we all react to what happens around us and I think it's important to not be reactionary and to actually put yourself in other's positions and take a step back because it's so easy to judge and to blame what you see without being aware of, of the reasons behind it. So quite a lot of the concepts and how I chat to people are about that.
Love that. I love that, just that and that analogy and the idea. And they'll say the reminder of your tattoo, are there other parts of your story and how you've got to where you are today that you would like to share with the listeners in terms of how you've made decisions and how you've been able to follow your own path and identify these really fabulous different parts that you've been able to spend time on. Say when you were writing your blog with your podcast, when you're on the advisory group, all these different components, how have you been able to continue and to identify those exciting opportunities?
It took a while. I'm going to be honest. I think probably the same as, as anybody, I went into medicine thinking that I had a path already predestined or pre-written out for me. So ever since I was about eight, I wanted to be a pediatrician and I didn't know anything about medicine or, or particularly why I wanted to be a pediatrician, but that was what I had my, my eyes on. So everything I did through medical school and you know, when you get to do projects or studies were all directed towards pediatrics, and then I managed to get the most amazing pediatric rotation that was the one that I always wanted. And it was only partway through that, um, that I met Charlie, who's now my husband, but at the time he then had to move away for his training. Then I gave up the pediatric rotation that I longed for for so long.
And I think that's when my head started to turn slightly. I realized that actually there were other options. There were other things that I could do and eventually I changed from pediatrics to be a GP because actually that allowed me to pick and choose what I wanted to do a bit more. And probably the biggest turning point for me was when my dad was admitted to hospital, when he had a couple of heart attacks in his fifties, and I'd never really been exposed to my own personal emotions. And what, it feels like to be on the other side and actually listening to him, being there, seeing the cardiologist with them, gave me the insight that probably changed everything. When I realized that actually good communication makes or, and experience not just for the patient, but for the family. And that's when I started writing and it took a while to get into it because I love to write, but it takes a while to find your own voice and your own style.
So my blog came from there and thankfully I've, I've gone back and deleted some of the very, very early entries. Cause it probably took me about six months to, to actually get what, I guess my creative juices flowing and be able to find the voice and the style that I was looking for. And coming from that other avenues and doors have just opened as much from being in the right place at the right time or, or somebody knowing somebody who was looking for somebody to, to talk on the radio or the TV. But I didn't go looking for those opportunities. And actually I'm still more comfortable writing where I can edit and nobody can see me than I am doing anything else.
And do you still write for yourself, do you keep a journal? Is that part of your kind of self care or self-regulation?
Sometimes not often, actually, sometimes. I'd like to, I'd like to like to have the time to write more because actually that's one of my favorite things to do, but I need time to be able, to think about that properly.
It's like you say, you need to give yourself time to allow the creative mind to come out. It's not always something just to be able to put down on paper. So what I find really fascinating is that actually all these different pieces that you've done. I've got different elements of communication and different formats in them. So with the blog, it's very much writing and then sharing that also I can have written format on social media then obviously the podcast is it's verbal and it's audio. And then also when you've done some of your media work, when you've been on, on television and done snippets for that, it's like, is there much more of a visual just wonder if you have any thoughts on just different types of communication and are you more comfortable? You said writing and feels more natural, but do you find yourself more comfortable in certain formats? And, and what do you think is the importance of those formats for, for the audience?
I definitely feel more comfortable with, with different ones. And I think a lot of it probably comes with confidence and experience. So when I first started writing and putting it on a blog, I knew that there was a good chance, nobody else for type of look at it or read it. And actually that was fine because I was just playing and trying to work out what I wanted to say. And I think as more people got in touch and more people read things, it gave me the confidence to, to push it forward a bit because I realized that actually there was something in it and people did want to listen. And the podcast was really interesting because there's no doubt that it was a different side of me because it's, it's quite hard to do a podcast, especially when you're trying to fill in some of the gaps.
And you're not sure if what you're saying is really dull and boring or if people want to listen or, and I found that quite hard to start with. And the more I did the easier it got, but actually I think people find it easier to, to listen to something, whether they're, they're going out on a run or a walk, or they're just sat, you know, with some, some background music or some something on, I think people find it easier to listen and to relate to somebody and to, to actually hear the voice. It resonates a bit better than, than reading. Having something written down I think is good because people can go back to it and have a look or they can share it. And I suppose it's a timestamp as much as anything else for somebody to, to know what happened at a certain time. But I think audio definitely helps more. It gives you a character and a personality and a voice behind just written words. TV work is absolutely terrifying. And I don't think there's a place for that for me. Certainly, but I suppose again, it demonstrates that you're, you're a real person and actually people may or may not relate to you, but at least they know who you are and what you look like a bit. But yeah, I think I'll leave that to somebody else
With all these, though, what you have done, which I really admire is that you've always been open to them and like you say. And if it feels completely uncomfortable or it's totally out of your comfort zone, you've been open to them. Is that driven by the knowledge that you're sharing a message. So you put yourself into that position of slight discomfort because you know, that the message you're conveying is going to be heard and that message is important.
Yeah. I think that is the only reason that I, I did the TV thing because the first time I was asked, I was given about six hours notice to go live on the news, but it was about cervical cancer and screening to try and increase screening, screening uptake. And I wanted people to hear that message. And if there was even a slight chance that just seeing a doctor giving that message alongside the story they were giving, I knew that I had to do it. So I kind of told myself that no matter how uncomfortable I felt in those few minutes and believe me, I felt really, really uncomfortable that actually anybody who's diagnosed with cervical cancer who potentially could have been picked up early, it was worth it because they felt more uncomfortable than I did at every step of their diagnosis and treatment. So, so yeah, I did it because it was important
And it's really clear that that vision and that sort of passion drives your decision-making and think that's something that, you know, if anyone gets a chance, do listen to Penny's podcasts? Because it's, it's very unique in the sense to share those voices. And those are voices of people that we don't like you say, we don't often hear, and we aren't able to listen to you, but the more people hear those voices, the more that they can then communicate with people and in a way that everybody can understand and be empowered to make their own decisions and be part of their own care. I do think that this openness is actually also about how these other opportunities come into your life. When you were sharing about being in that sort of really career path of becoming a pediatric SHO and then moving forward, actually being able to be open to different things. And whether that was through compromising or taking decisions for your team and your family, and thinking about it from a different perspective, it's opened up, hasn't it actually other opportunities for you that maybe you would never have even imagined? Do you think there's a, there's a tip there? Like, is there something that people can do to be a bit more open? How can we be? And maybe it goes with your softness, like how can you be softer and more open?
I think you have to be in a place where maybe you realize you're not fulfilling yourself, your potential, or not even happiness. I don't think, cause those times when we were sat drinking white wine, spritzers fooling ourselves that they weren't wine and we could still study. We were happy and no part do I think I made a decision that wasn't, wasn't serving me well, but I think actually just being a doctor doesn't define me and it doesn't define most, most people. And yet you're shoehorned into a role that, that seems very limited. And this as if there's not many other opportunities. So I think it comes with time and experience and being able to pop your head above the parapet slightly and realize that there are other people doing extraordinary things, but it doesn't mean that they're working 80 hour weeks on a ward or, or just doing one thing, but it takes a while to get there. And I think I wouldn't really change anything other than I wouldn't have done my pediatric exams if I knew I was going to be a GP, I think it's all part of life and part of the path and the process and trying to find out actually what suits you best. And that's not going to come in your twenties. It's going to come a little bit further down the line
And being your authentic self. Where do you now, if you were to describe Penny, what would you, how would you describe yourself?
I feel that I'm quite a genuine and honest person and I'd like people to see that when, when they see me that actually I'm somebody who, there are filters. I'm not going to say I'm unfiltered, but I'd like them to know that actually they'll get an honest reaction or an honest opinion. If they ask me something, I think I'm quite good friends and colleague. I definitely have people's backs and I will look out for them, but also I've got a really strong sense of justice. So that works two ways. So, I'm very just in what I do, but I can't stand by and watch some injustice happening and I will speak up as well. And sometimes I land myself in trouble, but I can't stand back and not speak up for what I believe in
Really powerful values, which are really amazing - as a friend. My podcast is called Authentic Tea because I really want to have authentic open conversations just as you've said, just being ourselves where and with who would you choose to have your most authentic cup of tea?
It's going to sound really cheesy, but I would choose my grandad and probably my parents' house. And that's takes me all the way back to probably when I was about six or seven. I remember standing by a window in my parents' dining room, looking out the window. And he said to me, something along the lines of, he could see me in the future driving a red sports car, but actually making it. And to me that meant the world because my parents always nicknamed me Dumbo. So I was the younger of two girls and my sisters IQ and intelligence was off the scale. So she, to me, and I know it's looking back, but to me, she seemed to have everything easy and people believed in her and thought that actually she had achieved what, what she wanted to in life. And actually I was the little, little Dumbo. Um, and actually, I was quite nice and quite cute, but I probably wouldn't get there, but he stepped me away from everybody else this particular afternoon and told me that I would get there. So I'd like, I'd like to go back and have a cup of tea with him and actually tell him that, that things had worked out just fine.
That is a lovely, lovely way to finish this podcast. I just want to say thank you because it's been really wonderful to have a chat with you, but if people want to find out more about you, can they still read some of your blogs? Can they listen to the podcast? Where's best to find out more about Penny.
Yeah. Perhaps that you can thank you. It's on my website, which is called Naked Health, and it's got links to various blog posts and podcasts, which is probably the simplest way to to have a little look and read about me.
And we'll put all the links down below the podcast too so that people can explore and find out more. So thank you, Penny. It's been wonderful. It's been lovely to connect with you today. And I'm really, really feel very grateful and honored to listen to your story.
Thank you so much.
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