Memoirs of a medic

As the NHS celebrates its 70th anniversary, Professor David Adams, Dean of Medicine and Head of the College of Medical and Dental Sciences, looks back on his early days within the NHS and shares his concerns for his graduating students.


My early memories of the NHS as a medical student was feeling quite intimidated.

Everybody seemed to be so efficient and busy and knew exactly what they were doing. I was this spare part of a medical student getting in everybody’s way, but the staff in most of the places I worked at made me feel very welcome, and some of the doctors I worked with were truly inspirational.

The first weekend after I qualified I was covering the whole of East Birmingham Hospital as Second On for Medicine.

I had very little in the way of senior support. It was a mixture of excitement and terror, but I survived. I think that hospitals are wonderfully exciting places to work, but I am glad we now provide more support to our junior doctors rather than throwing them in at the deep end.

Teamwork is one of the most important changes that has happened in the NHS.

Care is now delivered as part of a team rather than individuals dominated by one consultant. The old system was very hierarchical; if the consultant you were working for was up-to-date, committed and caring it was fine, but there were some maverick consultants who were out of touch and didn’t have a team around them to keep them in check.

Paul McMaster, a surgeon, has inspired me most in my NHS career, which given the fact that I’m a physician might be surprising.

Paul, together with Elwyn Elias, another of my mentors and heroes, set up the liver transplant unit from scratch in Birmingham; it was only the second transplant unit in the country and one of the first anywhere in the world. Paul was a truly inspirational person who taught you that you should never lower your ambitions; you should always strive for excellence and try and achieve whatever it is you set your heart on doing.

Professor David Adams

When thinking about the future of my students, the current state of the NHS concerns me.

Those of us who have the opportunity to influence policy around the NHS must do what we can to make sure we continue to have a National Health Service that is resourced to deliver outstanding care. Medical teams are critical to this and need to feel that they are supported to deliver the highest standard of care in a world that will be transformed by technological advances. Our current medical students will be working until 2070 and maybe beyond. They need to be trained to adapt to rapid and radical changes in the way we deliver medical care.

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