Meeting the Dean: Part Three

In the third of a three-part interview series with Dean of Hull York Medical School Professor Una Macleod, MB BS students Chaitra Dinesh, Vassili Crispi, and Alexandra Abel speak to Una about her time as a medical student and junior doctor, and advice she would give to her younger self.

Could you tell us a bit about your experience of medical training?

I went to Glasgow to study medicine and didn’t leave until I came here just over six years ago – which is very typical of Glasgow medics! I liked being a doctor more than being a medical student; there’s so much uncertainty in being a student, and so many things to tick off. (We know the feeling! – Ed) 

We didn’t get any of the communication skills teaching you guys get; we got lots of very adversarial bedside teaching, consisting of students round a bed with a consultant, picking on the weakest – it’s quite hard to learn if you’re afraid they’re going to pounce on you next! They weren’t all like that, though; we had some wonderful teaching as well. There would be six of us in a group, and every morning one of us would take a history, but doing it in front of lots of people is not the same – it’s hard to blank out other people. Once you get into a room and it’s just you and the patient talking to each other, that’s what being a doctor is about – and I think the fact that Hull York Medecial School students get to do much more of that makes them much better prepared for real practice. That’s the core thing: if you enjoy that interaction, you’ll be fine.

Did you have any doctors or teachers who were role models for you?

Yes, and it was about the way they viewed patients: how they were very patient-centred, and how they communicated. On several occasions as a young doctor I worked with people who were phenomenal clinicians, but it was the way they interacted with patients that made them stand out.

You chose to go into primary care; is that something you considered during medical school?

Medicine in those days was a very traditional course. The courses across the country were all more similar than they are now. We had a very clear pre-clinical period, and spent hours and hours in anatomy labs in first and second year. The vast majority of students at medical school did a lot of dissection and I’m actually still friends with two people from my dissection table! Then there was a clear mark at the beginning of third year into clinical years. We didn’t do much general practice – I think there were some visits in fourth year – so I’m not sure how students would have been enticed into it because we saw so little.

I did a year of oncology as an SHO and I thought I might like to do that, so did hospital medicine for a while. But I ultimately decided to train in general practice instead. I spent three years doing my PhD with one day a week in general practice, and when my PhD finished I got a half-time post in the academic department of general practice in Glasgow, and also became a half-time partner in a general practice. I did that for 12 years and then saw the advertisement for a Chair in Primary Care here. I thought, ‘Well, I’ve done two half-time jobs for a long time; maybe I should try one full time job to see if it’s less busy.’ That was a very foolish thought – I’ve never worked so hard in my life!

What advice would you give to your younger self?

To not be so serious! I was a very serious 18-year-old and that’s probably why I didn’t enjoy being a student as much as being a doctor. I laugh and say I was born 40, so becoming 40 was just me reaching my natural age – hopefully I’ll feel 40 for the rest of my life!

Professor Una Macleod was interviewed by Alexandra Abel, Vassili Crispi, and Chaitra Dinesh.