Elan Preston-Whyte, a retired doctor.
I enjoyed the pleasures of Exeter to the full. I dined in Hall, worked in a Library which possessed the eighteenth century book on which I based my dissertation, and was asked to read a lesson at the Annual Carol Service – but regretfully declined to join the rowing club.
One of the best aspects of a career in medicine is the opportunities it offers to work and travel. So, following my first house officer jobs in 1962, I worked at the Hôpital Necker in Paris and studied at the Sorbonne. Later I trained as an anaesthetist, and sailed to Cape Town to work as a registrar at Grooteschuur Hospital where Christian Barnard was operating. This was before he performed the first human heart transplant which would make him a global celebrity; but even in 1965 he was a brilliant surgeon who terrified everyone more junior than himself, including me, in theatre.
I married in South Africa and we returned to the UK with our three month old baby. As with all women with the responsibilities of career and family, I had to choose to ensure one was not neglected in favour of the other. Becoming a general practitioner in rural Leicestershire thus allowed me to juggle both practice and family with some success. When the new medical school was founded in Leicester University in 1972, I became a lecturer in what was then one of the first departments of General Practice in the UK.
Thirty years later, I was a senior partner in a large urban GP practice, before becoming a senior lecturer in the University: teaching students clinical medicine and teaching senior consultants ‘how to teach’. A reversal of roles, where it is usually hospital consultants lecturing to general practitioners.
When I retired in 2003, my husband and I moved to Oxfordshire to take up our new roles as grandparents. However as time went on and our grandchildren needed us less, I realised that one of the drawbacks of medicine is that – although I know a vast amount about the human body and mind – my knowledge in other fields was very limited. Someone recommended a Foundation Course in English Language and Literature at the Oxford Department of Continuing Education. It was a part-time course equivalent to the first year of a BA, so one could go on to complete the degree at University.
However, when I successfully passed the course I was instead accepted onto a Masters of Studies Course at Oxford University. It was a two-year interdisciplinary degree combining literature with the arts (including options of painting, sculpture, philosophy, history, and some theology). I was one of only two applicants to be accepted as a postgraduate student at Exeter College in 2011, becoming the oldest member of the Middle Common Room probably by some fifty years!
I enjoyed the pleasures of Exeter to the full. I dined in Hall, worked in a Library which possessed the eighteenth century book on which I based my dissertation, and was asked to read a lesson at the Annual Carol Service – but regretfully declined to join the rowing club. I was awarded my degree in 2013. However, the real reward has been to be able to retain my interest in the College through the 1314 club, and particularly to contribute towards the many projects which enable students less fortunate than myself to study at Exeter.