My Wellness Wins: Dr Ellie Rayner

We chat to the obstetrician and gynaecologist (@maternitymedic) about the power of exercise, and why nothing you tell her about your vaginal health will surprise her

My morning ritual is… I get up at 6am if I’m not on a night shift. There’s nothing more comforting than sitting quietly with a cup of fresh, strong coffee – in winter I’ll sit in bed, and outside in warmer months. I will sometimes check my emails, but will mostly think about what the day looks like, what I need to achieve and if I have any worries. Mentally preparing for a challenging day, while doing something comforting, helps me feel reassured, which normalises any worries.

My bedtime routine is… dependent on my shift. Sometimes I go to bed at a normal time or at 10am. My partner, Luke, is also a doctor, so we rely heavily on lighting in our home. If I’ve worked a night shift, the curtains will be closed all day, and programmed Philips Hue lights slowly come on from 4pm to help my body wake up, like a sunrise would. I don’t have caffeine too late and I avoid blue and white light before sleep. If I’m not on nights, I have a hot bath or shower to signal to my body that bed is coming. I’ll watch something that settles me – such as Escape To The Chateau – and as the lights get progressively more dim, the atmosphere in the room nudges me to bed!

I always tell my loved ones to… make their physical health a priority. Over the last year, I’ve noticed a big drop in routine gynaecology appointments, including smear tests. I know some women don’t want to go to a busy hospital/GP surgery for a smear or talk to a doctor about some funny discharge, because of the risk of catching Covid. Or perhaps they don’t think such services are still available. We still strongly want to see everyone and there are lots of processes in place to make sure people are safe. Smear tests are notoriously undervalued because they’re only for women with no symptoms. If you bleed after intercourse or between your periods, you should have a proper gynaecological assessment. Remember, the majority of conditions are so much easier to treat if detected early.

My favourite mantra isyour feelings are valid. We’ve all got a different core value and life experiences, and these impact our feelings towards everything we do. As doctors, we need to be encouraging and empowering women to speak up about issues that are important to them.

I love to cook… pasta. I’m a terrible cook, but pasta is so versatile – it can be comforting or a more elegant dinner. I don’t make my own, but I make all sauces from scratch.

My favourite way of relaxing is… being quiet and cosy at home with Luke, our dog, Bear, and cat, Ted. Hospitals are noisy, busy places, with bright, sterile lighting, so I’m in complete heaven doing that!

Exercise to me involves… 10 minutes of yoga at some point in the day to regulate my breathing, but that depends on my shifts. At work, I can walk tens of thousands of steps around the hospital. I’ll often save an at-home workout on a fitness app for the weekend. Working out to party music is a release after a busy week. Also, regular exercise helps regulate the menstrual cycle, and having a healthy BMI reduces the risk of several women’s cancers, including endometrial, ovarian, breast and colon cancer.

My biggest turn on… is uninterrupted time with Luke, to talk, plan, debrief our days, rant and dream – bliss! We live near Dawlish in Devon, and have both worked a lot during lockdown, so our sacred time is an evening walk with our dog along the Devon Coast Path.

The bad habit Im glad Ive kicked… too much processed, convenience food. As a junior doctor, I convinced myself that comfort food was a good thing. Every day in the hospital canteen, I’d eat lots of oven-baked beige food and it took me years to recognise that I have much more energy when I eat healthily. I now always eat a small portion of salad with every meal to get an extra hit of nutrition.

I inject positivity into my life by… being a member of several women’s support groups. It gives me a forum to be proud of myself. In one of the female entrepreneurs groups, we post our win if we’ve done something well or had a great week in business or our private lives. Building each other up, and that positive reflection on others, has changed my mindset.

No.1 on my gratitude list is… my job. I’m so lucky and privileged to have the opportunity to make a difference. It’s challenging and not every day has a positive outcome, but gynaecology and maternity is varied and gives me purpose in life. So many women have troublesome symptoms that they falsely normalise, so any chance to help feels amazing. No one should ever feel embarrassed talking about their gynaecological health. To us, it’s just ‘Wednesday at work’. Nothing you can ever tell me will shock me.