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Cruciformed medics

Medical students have been part of UCL for generations. But has medical training changed much? Three former medical students compare notes.

Words Penelope Rance Illustration Jimmy Turrell


Dr Anne Folkes (née Campbell) (UCL Medical School 1963) went on to a career in radiotherapy and oncology and a consultant post in Guildford. She is Chair of the UCL London alumni group.
After 11 years at an all-girls school, I was certainly ready for a change and UC (as it was in those days) certainly gave me that. Our MBBS class numbered 110, but the ratio at the college at the time was 90:10 in favour of men!

We were, of course, teased for being so few – but we girls took it in good part. At a pharmacy class we were studying the effects of atropine on the eye and drops were put into one of mine – with the result that one pupil was larger than the other. It was the night of the Freshers’ Ball so it caused great amusement, as unequal pupils are a sign of syphilitic infection!

I’d wanted to study medicine since I was quite young and had been a St John Ambulance Cadet. The contact with people was important and I had a fascination for all things scientific.

I was delighted with the choice of UCL and left with a broad education, having been taught and inspired by some remarkable people.

To find out more about the UCL London alumni group visit www.ucl.ac.uk/alumni/groups/london

Roger Chapman (UCL Medical School 1968) took up a consultant appointment in obstetrics and gynaecology in Derby, following Senior House Officer, Registrar and Lecturer posts at UCH.
There’s a common camaraderie among the clinical students who started in 1963 from those 18 months at UCL when we slogged our guts out to get through the second MB. When I was applying to lots of hospitals in London, most would ask: “Are your parents in medicine; did your father study here?”, but I remember UCL was more omniscient and my decision was entirely vindicated. I’d wanted to do medicine since I was about 12, and I couldn’t wait to get on with clinical theory and get involved with patients.

We were a close group and we got on well with the years above and below, hanging out at the Students’ Union on Huntley Street. Our local was the Lord Wellington, known as the Welly. We had four Saturday morning lectures, and I remember coming back from an all-night stomp in Chislehurst Caves, selling hotdogs, still with straw in my hair. UCL had extraordinary, high-powered teaching, with more Fellows of the Royal Society than anywhere else in England besides Cambridge University. And we were just one college.

I do a lot of work arranging regular reunions for the class that matriculated in 1963. There’s 88 of us left, and around 60 attended the 50-years reunion from all over the world – the mugshots never cease to cause high amusement.

We had four Saturday morning lectures, and I remember coming back from an all-night stomp in Chislehurst Caves, selling hotdogs, still with straw in my hair

Dr Orima Kamalu (UCL Medical School 2013) is a junior doctor at St George’s, Tooting. She is a member of the RUMS Alumni Committee.
I always wanted to go to a university with a high reputation and UCL was pretty much top of the list. But medicine wasn’t a life-long ambition. A few years before university, I did work experience in a hospital and started seriously thinking that it was the career for me.

Being a doctor is totally different to how I thought it would be when I was 16, but during the MBBS we were exposed to the realities of work, so now it’s exactly what I expected – not in a bad way, but I’d tell my 16-year-old self it’s not all glamour!

Being a student in London is just fantastic – I can’t imagine having such a good time anywhere else. One of my best memories is of the fourth year show, when the fourth and fifth year MBBS students put on a comedy sketch performance at the Royal Free. We spent months rehearsing. It was so different, miles away from medicine and everything else I was doing. I did publicity, wrote some songs and even got to sing one of them, which was nerve-wracking.

I joined the alumni organisation because I had such a good time I didn’t want to cut all ties with UCL. It’s a nice way to give back to the University and it’s interesting to see how things are organised behind the scenes. Now I organise events for younger alumni.

To find out more about the Royal Free UCL Middlesex Medical Schools (RUMS) Alumni Association visit here.

  • Contents 2014/15Contents 2014/15
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  • LettersLetters
  • New Centre for Brain ScienceNew Centre for Brain Science
  • Free RadicalFree Radical
  • Jeremy Bentham SpeaksJeremy Bentham Speaks
  • Why isn’t my professor black?Why isn’t my professor black?
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  • CloisteredCloistered
  • Market EconomyMarket Economy
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  • Cruciformed medicsCruciformed medics
  • A vision for 2034A vision for 2034
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  • London  vs  WorldLondon vs World
Portico Issue 1. 2014/15