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SAMJ: South African Medical Journal

On-line version ISSN 2078-5135
Print version ISSN 0256-9574

SAMJ, S. Afr. med. j. vol.101 n.1 Cape Town Jan. 2011




Reflections on then and now



To the Editor: I am a former UCT Medical School graduate (1958) who spent a good deal of last year as an inpatient in the UK. This has highlighted for me the changes that have taken place in the intervening years - not the medical advances, but the social ones. I was one of about ten female medical students, a very different ratio to that which obtains today. Then propriety dictated that women and men had to have separate dissecting rooms for anatomy. One wonders what moral turpitude was feared should we have shared the same facilities. Obstetric practice was also taught in single-sex groups!

Female consultants were then very rare. Helen Brown was an outstanding physician and Pat Massey a highly competent obstetrician/ gynaecologist. Golda Seltzer was very active in pathology. All were rare but very valuable role models.

I was intern to Helen Brown, for whom I developed the greatest respect and affection. She was an excellent physician, and although she had high expectations of her juniors she was very good to work for. I remember that when the firm was overstretched by the need to 'special' a man from what was then Northern Rhodesia and who had severe cerebral malaria, she came in at 2 a.m. to do her stint. I also recall an occasion when she found me upset and near to tears after a failed attempt to save the life of a patient. She took to task a nurse who had been critical of my emotion, saying that it was all right for Dr Robertson to be upset, and that you are in trouble when you stop feeling that way; perhaps an overstatement, but in many ways very true.

As students beginning our fourth year and new to clinical medicine we were required by our consultant tutors to work up the case of our particular assigned patient. My first was a pleasant man with severe emphysema, whom I described as 'elderly'. My tutor, Louis Vogelpoel, commented that '55 is not elderly'. At 74 I have long agreed.

I remain most grateful for my years at Groote Schuur Hospital and wish the present trainees as rewarding a career as was opened up for me.


Meg Robertson

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