By Olivia George
Quite accurately named a ‘lifelong visionary in global health’ by The Lancet, Sir Eldryd Parry, KCMG, OBE, is not only a true inspiration but also a delight to talk to, and I feel very lucky to have been able to interview him for this Global Health issue of Pacemaker. Aside from having undertaken years of important and interesting work in Sub-Saharan Africa, he is senior editor of Principles of Medicine in Africa (revised edition, 2004), and founded the Tropical Health and Education Trust (THET).
(For more information on THET see p 5 of this month’s Pacemaker)
1. Did your parents (both GPs) play a part in your decision to become a doctor? Who/what have been your greatest inspirations?
Yes – I had their example at home. They were selfless in their work: always available and very good clinicians. In one of my father’s books, which he bought long after he qualified (on the heart by McKenzie, who invented the venous polygraph) he wrote the names of patients he was seeing next to descriptions in the text – he was a very thoughtful physician.
The assumption was I would always be a doctor, but I wobbled for a time when at school. I loved my student years; Cambridge was quite difficult because I went at 17 and was a bit out of my depth initially. When I went onto Cardiff to do my clinical work I was academically and intellectually inspired by my professor of medicine, Harold Scarborough. He was one of three authors of one a standard physiology textbooks in the 50s, 60s & 70s, and he was an outstanding person. Inspiration is possibly slightly the wrong word – guide and pattern model is better. He taught me to think about mechanisms and across ideas, rather than in a very linear fashion.
Over the years different people at different times have inspired me, and now I’m inspired by committed younger colleagues.
2. It is difficult for British students today to imagine a life without the NHS – what was it like studying to be a doctor at the time of the naissance of the NHS?
I knew nothing different. The NHS began in 1948, the year I went to do my pre-clinicals, and my parents’ work from the inside didn’t change at all. In hospital we just worked; we weren’t aware of the NHS, as such, because the system was established and was working well. One of the great differences between then and now is that bureaucrats did not interfere, and there were no rigid time restrictions – no European Working Time Directive! The concept of lifestyle and time off didn’t arise. It was not very many years since the end of the war, when people had realized that they had to pull their weight in society, and we didn’t expect extras, didn’t look for time off, but just to do your job. It was no hardship; we were tremendously well looked-after as part of a small team. Of course, we had time off, and we played hard – being in Wales we played rugby. I still follow the rugby very closely!