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Peter is a retired member.
Medicine offers many different opportunities and the route you take need not be conventional because careers, like rivers, can meander. My career certainly demonstrates this. I left school in 1950, the week that the Korean War started. In an inauspicious school career (being no good at ball games), I hovered between engineering and medicine. Winning the natural history prize and passing the necessary exams led to a place at Bristol University.
Soon the University Air Squadron re-opened, which I promptly joined. Following qualification and house jobs in Bristol, national service compelled as an RAF medical officer, initially at a busy fighter station engaged in air defence. After flying in the UAS, my ambition lay in aviation medicine but the notorious 1957 Defence White Paper ending manned aircraft appeared to put paid to this. Being single, I volunteered that winter as medical officer on St Kilda. It was isolated and with little clinical work but I learnt the basics of public health, occupational safety, dentistry and administration, along with meteorological and wild life reporting.
Following an unhappy spell on a bomber station, I learnt a little radiobiology and went to Christmas Island, where the dire effects of thermo-nuclear explosions were still too apparent. Obstetric disasters in the native village demonstrated what happens with no medical care. Accidentally, I became the sole anaesthetist in the central Pacific, but confidence was shaken when a dog died whilst being induced with chloroform. Spare time was spent running the sailing club.
By now, I had been granted a permanent commission and selected for advanced pilot training. Flying Vampire jets was great fun and led to nearly two decades in aviation medicine, with dual qualifications as a doctor and military pilot. Work covered aircrew health and training, movement of patients by air, desert survival and involvement in minor wars in the Middle East, where I saw one of the last cases of smallpox in Aden.
With a change of career and burning midnight oil, I gained a Master’s in Public Health at Nottingham, along with membership of the Faculty. In public health, the work is never the same from week to week, from dirty toilets to war in the Falklands. Duties included membership of NATO inspection teams, commanding a training unit and then a hospital in Germany. Promoted and as an Assistant Surgeon General in the tri-service Ministry of Defence, first responsible for all health-care personnel, (including negotiations with the BMA over medical pay), and later responsible for medical logistics. With a forty million pound budget, I could not attend a drug company sponsored meeting and give my true name!
My last and unauthorised act in this role was to donate Gulf War surplus medical stores to charities, causing my successor some grief. By 1991, my uniformed time had exactly spanned the Cold War.
Attending the first job interview in my life, I was appointed a Consultant in Public Health in Wales. Surprisingly the work was little different from that in the MoD. Remaining an examiner in the Faculty, I took a special interest in training, shamelessly stealing material from service sources. Retiring at sixty five, my registrars took me out to lunch, where one sweetly asked “who are you going to give trouble to now?”
Retirement has proved to be no rest. I had taken up gliding while in the RAF and flown in national contests, inevitably becoming, and to this day, remaining the Medical Adviser to the British Gliding Association. Following the German Wings disaster last year, I presented papers on the better management of pilots with psychiatric disease. As you can see, it hasn’t been a straight forward path for me but that’s what makes medicine all the more interesting.