Studying medicine Medical student

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My medical inspiration

Who inspired you to become a doctor?

We've selected some of our favourites stories below, from GPs to surgeons, to inspirational scholars and parents - we hope this helps inspire you as you embark on your career in medicine.


  • A desire to prove teachers wrong

    My father was the eldest boy in a large family and so had to leave school at 14 to earn a living. His ambition was to be a doctor but never had the opportunity - he was my inspiration.

    Also, at state primary school we sat in rank order by our most recent exams; I usually competed with another boy for seats 32 and 33. One day we were both humiliated by our teacher for expressing the ambition to be doctors - that ridicule proved inspirational and today we are both doctors.

    Cairns Smith
    Aberdeen Emeritus Professor of Public Health.
    Previously worked in the field of leprosy in Singapore and India


  • A helping hand, not forgotten

    As a first-year clinical student at St George's Hospital, Hyde Park Corner, two experiences have stuck in my memory, one favourable and the other not.

    A senior consultant took my patient to theatre for an amputation after a failed vascular operation. In the anaesthetic room the frightened patient asked the consultant to 'promise that you will do this operation yourself'. And the promise was made.

    As soon as the anaesthetist had put the patient to sleep, the consultant turned to his registrar and said: 'Just get on with this, will you. I am going to the office where I have a lot of paperwork to attend to.' He then left.

    This happened some 42 years ago and I promised myself that if I ever became a consultant I would never do such a thing. To the best of my belief I have kept this promise.

    The favourable memory is of doing an ECG on a sick patient at 2am as duty medical clerk for Bob Rubens, then a house physician and now Professor Robert Rubens of Guys Hospital.

    He asked me if I 'understood it', and when it became very plain that I did not, he sat down with me for a whole hour, one-to-one, to explain it. I thought then, and still think now, what a wonderful thing to do for a mere student at 2am, when every sensible person would want to get off to bed.

    During all of my subsequent career when faced with a trainee in the early hours of the morning who was in need of teaching and all I wanted to do was to go to bed, the image of Professor Rubens came up before my eyes and I felt that it was my duty to continue to bear the torch that he had handed to me that night.

    My record is not, I fear, 100 per cent, but I have done my best. Years later, meeting Bob at a social gathering, I reminded him of this incident, and of course he could not remember it at all.

    The moral is that, for better or worse, senior doctors of every grade have an enormous continuing effect on those who are junior to them, and most of the time they will never know this.

    Michael Kelly
    Leicester consultant surgeon (colorectal & general) and president of the Royal Society of Medicine coloproctology section


  • Beating swords into ploughshares

    Professor Robert Alexander McCance was a teacher, colleague and senior who greatly influenced my career.

    After serving in the First World War as a Royal Naval Air Service pilot, he qualified in medicine in the late 1920s. He had already started a massive programme of food analyses in the contexts of diabetes and mineral metabolism, looking particularly at the role of sodium and the control of body fluids. He was a founding member of the Nutrition Society, and became professor of experimental medicine at Cambridge. In the early stages of the Second World War, his advice on food rationing greatly improved the nation's health.

    I met him in 1942, when I answered a call for student volunteers for a Royal Navy research programme, to address loss of life in the water after the sinking of ships, often in cold climates. The principal outcome was the naval life raft, which is now standard equipment on almost all ships.

    In 1953, I began a PhD project under Professor McCance, using rats in research that combined the recently discovered effect that lesions in the ventromedial hypothalamus cause obesity, with parabiosis, in which there is permanent cross-circulation of the blood between two individuals. This and subsequent research led me to believe that the hypothalamus receives a signal of some kind in the bloodstream that provides a feedback control of energy intake, energy balance and body weight.

    In my teaching career I regularly used do-it-on-yourself experiments, which I had developed in Professor McCance's department.

    Romaine Hervey
    Retired medical academic


  • Calm and collected in a crisis

    As a medical student, I knew I wanted a career in surgery. However, being a young, African woman training in an adopted country, there weren't many role models that instantly stood out.

    As a fifth-year medical student at Cambridge University, I had a placement in the paediatric surgery department at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge. I had the pleasure of working with the team of consultant paediatric surgeon Jeffrey Brain for a few weeks. This is where my journey into paediatric surgery began.

    Mr Brain was an inspiration because he seemed to enjoy his job. Around the kids, he was like Fozzie Bear from The Muppets Show, putting them instantly at ease and making difficult experiences palatable and even fun.

    In an emergency, he is the soul of calm. I still remember going down to the emergency department with Mr Brain to review a vomiting baby. The child was grey and sick with dehydration and was very unwell.

    Mr Brain quietly and efficiently coordinated getting cannulas in and started the fluid resuscitation with no sense of panic or drama. I don't think this poor baby's mother ever knew just how close to the line things were. Mr Brain just got things done.

    I am now a specialist registrar in paediatric surgery doing research at UCL and Great Ormond Street. I hope that one day I can be as good as Mr Brain. Meanwhile, please give the man a medal.

    Eve Macharia
    London SpR in paediatric surgery and clinical research associate

  • Encouraged to combine children and career

    Nuala Sterling CBE taught me that I could have children and a career. The children have already grown up. The career continues. So many thanks.

    Ellen Wilkinson
    Consultant psychiatrist and medical director of the Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust

  • GP with a determined devotion to care

    My father, Winston 'Wink' White OBE, was my inspiration to follow a medical career. Having qualified at Bart's, and after National Service in the RAF in Pakistan where he met my mother, a nurse, he took up a practice in Bedfordshire and was a true old-fashioned GP. The surgery was at our home with what, as a little girl, seemed a constant parade of patients. And then there was the 24-hour commitment...

    My father is passionate about medicine, determined, has a certain amount - well quite a lot - of obstinacy, particularly with regard to bureaucracy and is always keen to impart his knowledge (I was taught anatomy at an early age). Above all, he was a skilled clinician and had the reputation of being the GP patients would want to visit if they had something really wrong.

    And, by the way, he has retinitis pigmentosa, though he never lets his disability get in the way. He only gave up general practice aged 58 after visiting a very dark cottage when he had to ask 'I'm terribly sorry, but you'll have to show me where the patient is'. But he didn't retire. He and my mother raised money and founded the Pasque Hospice in Luton, which is now the Keech Hospice. He dedicated his OBE to the community who had raised the money.

    In his 84th year, my father remains determined, obstinate, and keen to impart his medical knowledge. He inspired me to become a GP and is now inspiring the next generation, including his grandson, my nephew. Dr 'Wink' White is a truly inspirational doctor.

    Nicola White
    GP, Alton, Hampshire


  • Lessons in independence

    My father told me not to be a doctor. He told me not to be a GP, if I became a doctor. He was a GP, and worked until he was 70. Work killed him. I knew he loved his work, but the demands broke him. Of course, I became a GP, but I was determined to enjoy it and not to let it break me.

    When I saw the warning signs at 57, I took early retirement. I subsequently trained as a cognitive behavioural therapy and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing practitioner. I now work for NHS Occupational Health, mainly dealing with post-traumatic stress. I am 70, and enjoying work more than ever before. My father was right to show me how to make decisions.

    The irony is that my father's father set out to study medicine before changing to divinity. The family disowned him. My father learnt from that.

    James Campbell
    Retired Ross-shire GP


  • Pride comes before a fall

    My late father graduated in medicine in 1935 from Calcutta (now Kolkata) Medical College. Later, he became a physician, with tuberculosis as his specialism. He rose to become principal of Sylhet Medical College in Bangladesh, and retired in 1966.

    In 1955 I was a medical student, when one afternoon I had severe chill, rigour and a high temperature. My father asked me to take chloroquine, as he thought it was malaria. When he came back I had breathing trouble. He examined me, and said I had bilateral pneumonia. He had a sample of tetracycline (Terramycin just being marketed by Pfizer), and started treatment with that. A few days later, I recovered.

    My father said that if he had not changed his diagnosis I would have been dead, and added: 'Your ego must not come between you and the proper treatment of your patient.' This I practised throughout my career.

    Faz Rashid
    Retired Kent consultant histopathologist


  • Unforgettable compassion for patients and students

    I was a clinical student in the early 1990s at the Royal London Hospital Medical School. I am sure all of the doctors who taught us were hard-working and competent and some were even compassionate and empathetic, but the one who inspired me above all others, was Richard Williams, who had been a GP, but was by then a consultant rheumatologist.

    As medical students, we all loved sitting in with him even if the clinics went on well beyond lunchtime and our tummies rumbled. The reason they overran is that he showed such compassion towards the suffering of his patients, and I expect they loved him as much as we did. In addition he seemed immune from the problems of an inflated ego that seemed to beset some of the other consultants around at the time. I don't think he had any idea of how exceptional he was.

    The other thing which made him stand out was that he made us, the medical students, feel like worthy members of society, which wasn't always how we were made to feel. He took an interest in us and took time to listen to us.

    This was all a long time ago now but it is funny that some experiences really stay with you, and time spent with Dr Williams is one of those.

    Tabitha Winnifrith
    GP in Cheltenham


  • Welcoming mentor with a balanced view

    As a medical student I had missed my ophthalmology attachment while in Paris on an Erasmus student exchange scheme.

    A special study module to catch up was arranged and my supervisor was Bristol consultant senior lecturer in ophthalmology Amanda Churchill. She was the only consultant I met in medical school who took a mentoring interest in me. She pointed out areas I could improve as well as taking a wider interest than just the clinical teaching, involving me in an audit and after graduation, in research.

    She welcomed me into her laboratory and supported my learning basic science techniques not taught in medical school. Through this experience I gained a CV which opened the door to an academic clinical fellowship in ophthalmology. She has continued to mentor me.

    The way she has most inspired me is by modelling an academic career in ophthalmology which balances family, patients and research.

    Jocelyn Cherry
    Bournemouth academic clinical fellow in ophthalmology


  • Witnessing skill of Christmas Day consultations

    As a sixth-form student I worked part-time in a local pharmacy in Portsmouth. I had toyed with the idea of applying to study medicine on and off but never really thought it might be a viable option.

    I was doing my A-levels at the time in French, Spanish, English and geography and had a place to study modern languages. During my time at work, I met lots of GPs who would often pop in and out of the pharmacy, as we were the duty chemist in Portsmouth at the time and were open long hours.

    One Christmas, I was working on Christmas Day and Boxing Day and a GP, Andrew Williams, came in two or three times, meeting patients for a consultation in our first aid room. Watching him do this and seeing how he interacted with the patients and their gratitude made me really think again about medicine.

    In the following weeks I researched a change of course, went back to sixth form college for a third year to do biology and chemistry and have now been a doctor for nearly four years.

    I don't think he has any idea what an influence that was, or even who I am.

    Daniel Furmedge
    Academic clinical fellow in medical education, London