I Wanted to Be a Doctor, but I Studied History When I Fell for the Teacher; as the Standard Launches Its [Pounds Sterling]25,000 NHS Champions Awards, Dr Carol Black, President of the Royal College of Physicians, Reveals What She Believes Makes Her a Good Doctor Secret of My Success NHS CHAMPIONS

Article excerpt

Byline: ANDREA KON

I WENT to Market Bosworth Grammar School in Leicester where the headmaster, William Gosling, an Oxford classicist, was my mentor. Mentors have been the most important people throughout my career, which is why I am so happy to mentor now, to give something back.

My parents both worked for the Co-Op and expected me to leave school at 15 like everyone else. But Mr Gosling was passionately concerned to see children at his school achieve the most they could.

He wanted to see them use their talents, whatever they were.

He was a fantastic role model and when my father suggested I should leave school because he couldn't afford to keep me there any longer, Mr Gosling arranged for my uniform to be paid for out of school funds.

That was how I came to be the first person in my family to go to university.

I went to Bristol where I read history.

I chose the subject because I was in love with the history teacher, but I quickly realised I'd chosen the wrong course. History was very dry a nd the medics seemed to be having the most interesting time.

But I was told I couldn't change courses, so I studied hard and gained my degree.

I started work as a medical social worker, working with patients in hospital, went around the world doing voluntary services overseas and came back to do medicine.

I had no idea how to become a doctor and it was Marjorie Tait, the warden of Manor Hall, the hall of residence where I lived as a history undergraduate and later as a medical student, who became my second mentor.

She told me: "If you want to do something, then you must do it and it doesn't matter if you fail."

It was very important knowing there was someone there for me who would be non-judgmental if I fell flat on my face. She arranged for me to become a sub-warden at Manor Hall, which helped me pay my way through medical school.

I was 26 when I embarked on my medical degree. As an arts graduate, I had no science A-levels so I had to take my first MB, whereas students with science A-levels could go straight onto their second.

My mother died of cancer while I was studying for this, which was a terrible blow. I worked incredibly hard that year.

I got a job in Sketchley the cleaners and discovered how boring it was to pack blankets. I also worked as a ward orderly at Leicester Royal Infirmary, so I've seen another side of hospital life firsthand.

That made me appreciate the value of a great education.

My third mentor was Alan Read, Professor of Medicine at Bristol. I was his houseman and later his registrar and he was extremely good at finding job prospects and helping me enter a speciality, rheumatology, where I could climb the professional ladder quickly.

None of it was easy, but I think medicine is a fantastic career. If I were given my time again, I would do it all over again.

When I trained, you couldn't image the body with MRI or other sophisticated scanning.

The technical advances that allow us to do these things have made it all the more interesting. Medicine has changed vastly in other ways too. If current trends continue, we will eventually become a profession that is, to a large extent, populated by women. …