Alan Roger, Graduated 1971 and now retired
Prof Roger started life in a small town in Fife but reached as far as Melbourne
Tell us about your experience of getting into medicine
I wanted to be a doctor from the age of three and informed my teacher so on my first day at Gallatown “wee” school. Perhaps it was watching my mother giving my grandfather his insulin every day or Dr Girvan, our GP, visiting my grandparents fortnightly, all part of the fledgling NHS: I was in awe of this good GP in the mould of Drs Finlay and Cameron.
I never changed my mind so at high school I chose subjects, defying the Rector’s view that Latin was essential, to help me get what in those days the universities required. No one in my extended family had been to university and none were in medicine but my parents – totally working class – supported and encouraged me all the way and, in turn, they were encouraged by my great primary teacher, Mrs LBG Loggie. Back in the 1960s they were reassured that fees would be paid, a government maintenance grant would be awarded and sufficient and pupils from my state school could get into medical school. I was fortunate: my fifth year Higher results brought an unconditional offer from Edinburgh – my first choice – on Hogmanay of my final year, and five others from my year joined me (though only two would graduate). So, no UK aptitude test, no interview, a basic personal statement with no training in what to write, no requirement to get job experience and, I guess, a reasonable reference from my high school rector.
What is being a doctor (or med student) like?
Medical school was a new experience but generally enjoyable partly because it was easy to make a few friends. We also had good teachers. However, while at university I came to understand that I am homosexual. I did not start the process of “coming out” even to myself until three years post-graduation. Then I was training in surgery. Friends and colleagues helped and never did I feel this led to problems for me. I met my partner, now spouse, two years later and Peter and I have been accepted as a couple throughout my career.
That career led me from surgery into cancer medicine as a clinical oncologist – trainee then consultant in Edinburgh with a year en route in Texas; professor and head of a new department for eleven years in Melbourne; and finally medical director of the UK’s second largest cancer centre in Glasgow. My specialty interest was breast cancer. Thanks to my patients, I found that rewarding, always interesting, yes demanding but never overwhelming.
Neither at medical school nor on graduation did I dream my career would be so interesting, enjoyable and fulfilling: it turned out so because of our patients and many wonderful teachers, mentors and colleagues including nurses, physios, radiographers, physicists, ward domestics, technicians, all of whom made up for the few who behaved badly or were intensely irritating (you find all sorts in any profession). Altogether a most enjoyable career with no regrets.