Wednesday June 23 at 13.00 BST (UTC+1)

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‘What a remarkable book this is; tender, funny, brave, heartfelt, radiant with love and life. It brought me often to laughter and – several times – to tears. It sings with joy and kindness’ Robert Macfarlaneon Rachel Clarke’s latest publication Breathtaking: Inside the NHS in a Time of Pandemic.


We’re delighted that our first Borrowed Time keynote event was a talk by Dr. Rachel Clarke who achieved acclaim not just for her outspoken and fearless advocacy for her fellow Junior Doctors during their national strike in 2016, but for her subsequent publications Dear Life, a doctor’s story of love and loss (2017), Your Life in my Hands: a Junior Doctor’s Story (2020) any most recently Breathtaking: inside the NHS in a Time of Pandemic (2021). The Sunday Times says that Rachel ‘writes with a tender, lyrical beauty; The Guardian in a similar vein describes her words as ‘brimful of love, grace and kindness’.

Before going to medical school, Rachel Clarke was a television journalist and documentary maker. She now specialises in palliative medicine, caring deeply about helping patients live the end of their lives as fully and richly as possible – and in the power of human stories to build empathy and inspire change. Much of her work explores love, loss, grief, dying and what really matters at the end of life –– core themes for Borrowed Time.

Rachel studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Oxford and worked as a broadcast journalist prior to her career in medicine. She produced and directed current affairs documentaries for Channel 4 and the BBC focusing on subjects such as Al Qaeda, the Gulf War and the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She became a NHS junior doctor in 2009.

Her debut book Your Life in My Hands: A Junior Doctor’s Story (ISBN 1786064510, OCLC 985323602) was published by Metro Books in July 2017, and covers her experiences working as a junior doctor on call, handling pain and trauma, NHS funding and the recruitment and retention of doctors and nurses. In this book she argues that in a hospice there is more of what matters in life – more love, more strength, more kindness, more joy, more tenderness, more grace, more compassion – than you could ever imagine. For if there is a difference between people who know they are dying and the rest of us, it is simply this: that the terminally ill know their time is running out, while we live as though we have all the time in the world.

Her second book, Dear Life, a doctor’s story of love and loss, (ISBN 1408712520) exploring end-of-life care, was published by Little, Brown in January 2020. Writer Robert MacFarlane described it as a ‘remarkable book: tender, funny, brave, heartfelt, radiant with love and life. It brought me often to laughter and – several times – to tears. It sings with joy and kindness’. Dear Life is a book about the vital importance of human connection, by the doctor we would all want by our sides at a time of crisis. It is a love letter – to a father, to a profession, to life itself.

Clarke’s latest book, Breathtaking: Inside the NHS in a Time of Pandemic, (ISBN 1408713780) was published by Little, Brown on in January 2021. Based on her own experiences caring for patients with COVID-19, as well as interviews with colleagues, patients and their families, it reveals what life was like inside the NHS during the first wave of COVID-19 in the UK.

How does it feel to confront a pandemic from the inside, one patient at a time? To bridge the gulf between a perilously unwell patient in quarantine and their distraught family outside? To be uncertain whether the protective equipment you wear fits the science or the size of the government stockpile? To strive your utmost to maintain your humanity even while barricaded behind visors and masks?

As a palliative care doctor Rachel looked after some of the most gravely unwell patients on the Covid-19 wards of her hospital. Amid the tensions, fatigue and rising death toll, she witnessed the courage of patients and NHS staff alike in conditions of unprecedented adversity. For all the bleakness and fear, she found that moments that could stop you in your tracks abounded. People who rose to their best, upon facing the worst, as a microbe laid waste to the population.

Breathtaking is described as ‘an unflinching insider’s account of medicine in the time of coronavirus. Drawing on testimony from nursing, acute and intensive care colleagues – as well as, crucially, her patients – Clarke argues that this age of contagion has inspired a profound attentiveness to – and gratitude for – what matters most in life.’

Read the chat transcript

Borrowed Time is a space to explore questions around death, dying and change; we have held a number of events since October 2020, leading towards our international symposium on October 31 – November 2, 2021 at Dartington in Southwest England (and online). More information at