For a long time Tim Ewoldt (31) was too busy to read. He studied medical science in Maastricht and spent a couple of years working in hospitals in that part of the Netherlands. He started his PhD at Erasmus MC three and a half years ago. At the same time, he began a course in clinical pharmacology. Reading was not something he could ever get round to doing. Until he picked up Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. “Reading science fiction relaxes me. It gives me time to do nothing, except the reading itself. I’ve gone back to reading other books since that one.”

Waking up in space

The book features a man who wakes up on board a spaceship somewhere in interstellar space, with no idea how he ended up there. He has lost everything, including his memory, and adopts a systematic approach to try and figure out what has happened. The protagonist is a research scientist. “That’s the one thing we have in common. Other than that, his reality is nothing like mine. And fiction is what I look for in a book. I can read the newspaper or an academic article for non-fiction.”

Ewoldt is a research scientist at the hospital. Nurses predicted he would end up working here when he was just twelve years old. He was admitted to the hospital with abdominal pain. Three days later he was back to normal and was discharged. The doctors couldn’t figure out what the problem had been, and Ewoldt was feeling fit as a fiddle once more. “Being admitted to hospital is a bit of an ordeal for a child, but it didn’t bother me. I just asked the nurses loads of questions.”

Ewoldt set his sights on surgery initially, but changed course during his clinical training period. “I realised I wanted a mixture of theory and practice. Surgeons are mainly hands-on. Anaesthetists get the best of both worlds.” Ewoldt is also interested in the interaction between people and medicines. “When you administer sleeping pills, you see the effect in real time.”

Reading habits

Last book read: Fairy Tale by Stephan King

Primary motivation: relaxation

Number of books a year: 24

Favourite genre: science fiction and fantasy

Antibiotics for young men

Ewoldt’s doctoral studies are focused on the effects on patients of a broad group of antibiotics (beta-lactam antibiotics, for those in the know). These are commonly prescribed when doctors are not yet sure exactly what type of bacterium is active in the body.

The dose of antibiotic administered is based on that required for a young male aged 18-30, weighing 70 kilograms and 1.70 metres tall. That is not representative of the average type of patient that Ewoldt sees in the hospital. In fact, he is much more likely to see people with a high BMI or women. “There is very little research into women, even though we know that men excrete antibiotics through urine more rapidly than women.” The faster you excrete the antibiotics, the more you need to get the desired effect. “So a lower dose might suffice for women than for men.”

In his research, Ewoldt tests a variety of ethically responsible doses on real patients in intensive care, always with the consent of the patient or the patient’s family. No coronavirus patients have been included in the research. Ewoldt found the right balance between theory and practice in this research, which is in its final stage. “Now it’s time to publish the major articles.”

Working towards a secure position

Once he has completed his PhD, Ewoldt is keen to train as an anaesthetist – a popular specialism that attracts a sizeable number of suitable candidates, all competing for a limited number of spaces across the country. If he is successful, he will have a secure job for the next five years. Until then, it’s all up in the air. “I have no idea where I’ll end up. It could be Groningen, Nijmegen, Amsterdam, Rotterdam. I won’t dare to buy a house.”

Tim Ewoldt studied Medical science at Maastricht University. He worked in an intensive care unit and in the Cardiology department. In 2019, he commenced his PhD at Erasmus MC, where he is researching Therapeutic Drug Monitoring using beta-lactam antibiotics in seriously ill patients. He is also studying a course in clinical pharmacology.


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