James Taylor, Professor of Anatomy

From technical school to medical school, and a few adventures along the way

Tell us about your experience of getting into medicine

img_1516I came to Edinburgh Medical school in 1949 from a technical school – Falkirk technical school, (became Graeme High School after I left.) I have often thought about what led to it. I had been admitted to the local hospital aged 13 for emergency surgery and as I recovered I was fascinated by the ice and interaction in the old fashioned big surgical ward. My mother had been a nurse but up until my fifth year I had dreamed of following in my father’s footsteps (he was a pattern maker in a local foundry).

When I decided at about age 16 that that was not for me I was “lost” in the dilemma of what alternative career I should seek.  No-one in my family had ever gone to university, but again when I was in the hospital corridor one evening after visiting in the hospital I had a kind of epiphany – an inspiration that I would like to work in a place like this. On reflection I thought it was an unrealisable fantasy.  No university tradition; in a school where football was the main obsession and academic pursuits were unpopular.

Then to get into medicine was one of the most difficult entries to aspire to.  But I was encouraged by my parents not to abandon this objective. I was fortunate to be elected school captain and for two years I was school sports champion; I was high average in Maths and English but not particularly brilliant; But I think the school principal gave me a good reference.

What is being a doctor (or med student) like?

I was “over the moon” when I was accepted for all four Scottish Universities but I felt like a fish out of water when I went up to Edinburgh and mixed with students from all the Scottish fee paying schools like Fettes Loretto and Watsons as well as many from English public schools. It was not until I began second year, having struggled and scraped through first year chemistry physics, botany and zoology, that I felt part of the medical school and began to enjoy it. I graduated in 1955 and overall, University was a great experience which changed my perspectives on life though contact with so many interesting people from such different backgrounds to mine.

After 3 house jobs I went to Congo as a medical missionary for seven years and became an accomplished GP surgeon but we were caught up in a civil war and had to be rescued by mercenaries. I went back to Edinburgh as a demonstrator in anatomy hoping to gain an FRCS, but instead under George Romanes as supervisor I did a PhD and eventually became a professor of anatomy in Perth Western Australia.

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