Who is your medical inspiration?
After the Olympics and Paralympics pledged to 'inspire a generation', and as medical schools welcome their 2012 intake, we wanted to celebrate all the doctors who have inspired the next generation.
So we asked you to send us your stories about who inspired you to become a doctor.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to send us their stories. We hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as we have.
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 till 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.
Retired Ross-shire GP
Never walk alone
My inspirations were Keith Leiper and Niall Wilson (pictured right). The two of them taught and practised medicine to the highest standards imaginable.
Keith died in October 2011, and his work lives on. Niall remains an inspirational teacher, friend and lifelong supporter of Liverpool Football Club.
Brighton consultant psychiatrist
Roll call of doctors who made a difference
'This feels difficult as there have been so many doctors who've inspired and supported me in my career over the years, but I think these really stand out, Nigel Bateman, retired consultant in chest medicine at Guy's and St Thomas's, who was not my formal medical school tutor but I learnt through his experience and teaching. He was always supportive, always had time and always gave me sensible advice.
'Colin Stern, consultant paediatrician at Evelina Children's Hospital, Guy's and St Thomas's. Though not a formal tutor, he really made a difference. He was just very positive, supportive and also creative in seeing different perspectives, or solutions in career situations.
'Ann Lorek, consultant community paediatrician at the Mary Sheridan Centre, Lambeth. I was ill in my first paediatric post as an SHO - and feel grateful for the kindness and support I was shown, particularly by Dr Lorek but also by the other paediatric consultants at that time at Lewisham Hospital.
'Gordon Caldwell, consultant physician at Worthing Hospital, for his support of junior doctors and the importance of leadership.
'There are many others - especially in paediatrics and neonatology at the Evelina Childrens' Hospital, and in psychiatry training at the Maudsley.
'Outside medicine, Camilla Batmanghelidjh of the Kids' Company, and Bob Hoffman of the Hoffman Institute, for having courage in their convictions. And Tim Laurence and Serena Gordon similarly in bringing the work of the Hoffman Institute to the UK.'
London registrar in paediatrics and child psychiatry, focusing on the work of the Hoffman Institute
Beating swords into ploughshares
'Professor Robert Alexander McCance (picture right) 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.'
Retired medical academic
Encouraged to combine children and career
'Nuala Sterling taught me that I could have children and a career. The children have already grown up. The career continues. So many thanks.'
Consultant psychiatrist and medical director of the Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust
Drawn to a mission in palliative care
'I did medicine inspired by the work of Mother Mary Martin (pictured right) who saw the suffering of the mothers and children in Nigeria and started a congregation (Medical Missionaries of Mary, Drogheda, Ireland) of medical and support people to meet their needs in 1937.
'After working in many specialties in Nigeria and Ireland, I was secondly inspired by the work of Dame Cicely Saunders in relieving the suffering of those with life limiting illness and bringing them to peace. Now, long after retirement age, I am working in Africa bringing palliative care through service and training through Hospice Africa (Liverpool) in the model for Africa, Hospice Africa Uganda and the Institute of Hospice and Palliative care in Africa, in Kampala, Uganda. '
Professor Anne Merriman
Director of Policy and International Programmes for Hospice Africa
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.'
GP in Cheltenham
Unfailing good humour and diagnostic skill
'Richard Taylor (pictured right), a general physician in Kidderminster who subsequently became an MP, was my inspiration when I was his house officer.
'He was very hardworking and enthusiastic. He was the best informed doctor that I have ever met and an amazing diagnostician. He was unfailingly cheerful and polite to everyone. Yet he played an April fool's trick upon us all by admitting a Mr S Murf who was 'cyanosed'. We all laughed when an unexpected cuddly toy was wheeled onto the ward. I still aspire to be even half as clever.'
Consultant physician specialising in general and geriatric medicine, South Powys.
GP with a determined devotion to care
'My father, Winston 'Wink' White OBE (pictured right), 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 and celebrated its 21st birthday this year. 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. His grandson, my nephew is applying for medical school for entry in 2013. Dr 'Wink' White is a truly inspirational doctor.'
GP, Alton, Hampshire
Hurrah for Jean
'My friend Jean Potter is my inspiration. She works as a palliative care specialist in London, and she is fantastic.
'I trained with her at St Mary's Hospital Medical School, and she is clever and funny and a great palliative care doctor. I'm in palliative care, too, and would like to be like Jean. We've both got little kids, and live on opposite sides of the world now, but hurrah for Jean! The specialty of palliative care is all the richer to have you in it.'
Queensland medical officer in palliative care outreach
'As a 16-year-old who had just sat O-levels, I went on a Scripture Union camp to the Isle of Arran, and had as my tent officer a young physician studying therapeutics on a clinical attachment called Robin Taylor. He was a Scot and I was Irish, but he worked in Belfast, and spoke of his work enthusiastically. He was delighted that I had been considering medicine as a career, and three of us in the tent made arrangements to visit him at the Belfast City Hospital on our return.
'We were all very impressed by his white coat and his position, and by how the patients related to him. I guess that, strictly speaking, we should not have been put in white coats and taken on to a ward, but it was inspirational.
'Robin continued to encourage me to follow my dream in the following two years until A-levels. I am now 20 years a GP and 25 years qualified next year. I am still in touch with Robin. He went on to specialise in respiratory medicine, and recently retired as professor of medicine in Dunedin, New Zealand. I have told him that he was my inspiration, and he was embarrassed and bemused, but I guess a little pleased and flattered.
'PS: The other two guys ended up as a church minister and a businessman owning fast-food outlets.'
GP West of Scotland
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 1950, I was about 13 years old, when we went to Bangladesh to visit my father's uncle. About 100 yards from the house, my father asked me to take my younger brothers and sisters back to my uncles' house, where we were staying. He said he had heard there was diphtheria in the house of my father's uncle. Sure enough, a young child there did have diphtheria and died soon after.
'In those days, when pathology was in its infancy, vaccination other than for smallpox was unknown, antibiotics were yet to be discovered (excepting penicillin), and diagnoses depended on signs and symptoms.
'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.'
Retired Kent consultant histopathologist
Inspired by 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.'
Aberdeen Emeritus Professor of Public Health.
Previously worked in the field of leprosy in Singapore and India
A helping hand is 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.'
Leicester consultant surgeon (colorectal & general) and president of the Royal Society of Medicine coloproctology section
Books, best friends and bold experiments
'I recently retired but have found renewed inspiration later in life with The Peckham Health Experiment which until 1950, linked exercise (in a swimming pool and gym) and joy, (in a dance hall that could be used for other activities) with health (nurses, doctors and dentists), in one building and organisation.
'I ordered the study at my local Library in 1973 and even then it had to be taken from Leamington Spa Archived Book Store. It was a loss to medicine and the local people when the experiment was replaced by the NHS. I still believe prevention is better than a cure.
'As for individuals, GP Ian Tait from Aldeburgh - where I trained in general practice in 1977 for two weeks. He was a thoughtful, generous, down-to-earth, excellent teacher. When I became depressed doing registrar medicine, I remembered how lovely general practice was, and the company of GPs seemed more human than hospital doctors, so I changed tack. I have been a GP for 29 years.
'The most inspiring book I have read is Talking Sense by Richard Asher. Myxoedema madness and Munchausen Syndrome were his initial descriptions. He was such an astute observer; his writing is marvellous and his discoveries were revelations. It is still so relevant to the practice of medicine today. '
Retired Bristol GP
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.'
London SpR in paediatric surgery and clinical research associate
A hard road to recognition
'Two years ago, I still did not know whether medicine was for me. Too much hard work, I thought.
'Then I watched Gifted Hands: the Ben Carson Story - the inspirational autobiographical movie about US doctor Benjamin Solomon Carson Sr. Born in 1951 to a single mother, he became the first surgeon to separate conjoined twins linked at the back of the head successfully. This achievement came after years of hard work and dedication. At times he felt not as gifted as others and doubted himself - but at the end he acknowledged his strengths. His journey, though full of difficulties, ended in superb achievements.
'After watching that film, I realised that medicine wasn't too hard for me but I was too hard on myself. Dedication and hard work brought Dr Carson to where he is today. So I embarked on this journey; let's find out where I will be in 10 years...'
Picture courtesy of Johns Hopkins Children's Center.
Norwich Medical School second year
Unassuming hero of overseas aid work
'Albert Schweitzer was a learned man of great ability whom, it has been said, could have made an honourable career in any one of several fields, including music or theology.
'When he chose to employ his talents as a doctor, he did not seek well-paid work in Europe but instead went to West Africa to work in a remote place where the healthcare needs were enormous and resources to meet them were scarce.
'Albert Schweitzer (pictured right) was a persevering man who was not deterred from continuing in his chosen field of service, neither by shortages, by war, by loneliness, by illness, nor even by old age (when it caught up with him).
'Albert Schweitzer was a Christian, a dedicated doctor, a gentleman, a pioneer, one who served poor people and did not seek credit for himself.
'Albert Schweitzer was a person I never met, but he was my hero and he inspired me (an ordinary teenager from a non-medical family) not only to study medicine, but also to go abroad to use my medical skills in a particularly needy area. I am proud to have followed in his footsteps, albeit in another age and on another continent.'
East Sussex GP
I read On the Edge of the Primeval Forest by Albert Schweitzer, changed career direction and obtained a place in medical school and had a very fulfilling career in Africa.
Retired GP, Somerset
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 (pictured right). 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.'
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.'
London academic clinical fellow in medical education
Full of energy for immediate emergency care
'As a fourth year medical student, I was inspired by a lecture at Leeds medical school by Ken Easton, a GP at Catterick, and the founder of BASICS (the British Association for Intermediate Care).
'Ken (pictured right) vented his frustration, if not anger, at the number of preventable road traffic accident deaths on or around the northern A1 and explained how he liaised with the emergency services to make sure crash victims were properly treated, if not resuscitated, at the scene before transportation to hospital.
'He demonstrated his emergency kit. His energy, explaining the potential of what a GP can actually do and change, was infectious. Afterwards I reflected on the buzz in the audience about what we had witnessed and wrote to him, asking if I could perhaps spend a week of my final year sabbatical with him.
'He was in full agreement so I stayed with his family, sat in on his surgeries, visited the local army camp, attended a local council session in Richmond where he was a member, and helped him prepare for a school sex education talk which we both attended.
'There were no accidents during my stay but I knew as I drove home at the end of a most wonderful week that there could only be one job for me. It was the foundation stone for 34 years of highly enjoyable general practice in a semi rural setting where I had the potential to go the extra mile.'
Hampshire retired GP
Read more about Dr Easton
Kind, enthusiastic and an excellent teacher
'As a new doctor, my inspiration was Fiona Knox (then McLennan) who was a senior registrar in Aberdeen. She was very kind to a new trainee, and her teaching was excellent, especially when on call with her, where she was always there to inspire.
'The ITU at that time was in the neurosurgical ward, and as the house officer for neurosurgery I looked after our patients in the ITU alongside the anaesthetists. Dr Knox was so enthusiastic and caring that she inspired me to take up anaesthesia as a career.
'When I was a trainee anaesthetist she was a consultant, but was always supportive and willing to advise.
'Later on in my career, at a time when I was beginning to represent the staff, associate specialist and specialty doctor grades, I went to a seminar where there was a speaker who radiated enthusiasm and caring. It was Kate Bullen (pictured right), who eventually became BMA council deputy chair.
'She then invited me to give a lecture at a future national seminar. Never having formally lectured before, I was unsure I had the expertise but felt she would not have asked me to do so unless she thought I could, and as I trusted her judgement I agreed.
'The lecture was on the structure and function of the BMA, and she encouraged me from then on. Both were unassuming, caring, inspirational figures.'
Lincolnshire associate specialist in anaesthetics