So you want to be a consultant

Dalrymple is third from left

The young Dalrymple is third from left

Dalrymple remembers the advice proffered by a senior consultant to himself and other young people at the outset of their clinical studies. The consultant

was teaching us how to examine patients. He had just discovered that he had cancer of the bowel, which he took to be a sentence of death. His life was at an end, he said, and now he realised that he had devoted it to a worthless ambition, namely to become a consultant in a teaching hospital.

To achieve this he had led a deformed life for many years. He had

  • been endlessly on duty at night, ruining his family life
  • toadied for years to men whom he detested
  • failed to develop other interests
  • played silly academic games by doing research which he knew from its inception to be futile, since it was undertaken from a desire for promotion rather than from love of knowledge
  • lived his entire adult life in a single institution, knowing nothing of the world beyond

And now

it was too late, he was dying.

I know you don’t like me,’ he said, which was no more than the truth, for he had been an irascible and intimidating teacher.

But I want to give you a piece of advice. You won’t take it, I know, but I’ll give it you all the same. On no account pursue a career only for power or prestige. To live an interesting life, that is the main thing. You don’t appreciate it yet, but this is the only life you have, so make the most of it. Don’t do what I’ve done. The world is much bigger than any hospital.

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