Global Scholars Learn What It Means to Be a Doctor

Keith B. Taylor

In January, St. George’s University medical students in the Keith B. Taylor Global Scholars Program were welcomed to Northumbria University to take part in the traditional White Coat Ceremony. Students were presented with their White Coats by leading medical professionals, including Master of Ceremonies Dr. Ranmith Perera and Keynote Speaker Dr. Linda de Cossart.

Ranmith Perera, MD SGU ’94, thanked the University for providing him with the opportunity to pursue his career in medicine. He spoke of losing hope when, in the early 1980s, the government of Sri Lanka closed down the North Colombo Medical School, where he was enrolled. But he explained, thanks to a special program established at SGU, Sri Lankan medical students were welcomed to Grenada to continue their studies.

Dr. Perera went on to outline his journey, beginning as a pathologist at the Royal Infirmary Edinburgh and Western General Hospital as a Senior House Officer in Histopathology, before becoming a Specialty Registrar in London at St. George’s Hospital and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital. He is now a consultant pathologist in the Department of Cellular Pathology at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, one of the largest kidney transplant programmes in the UK.

His parting words outlined to the valuable contribution SGU’s students will make to society. “There is a global shortage of doctors, so work hard and hurry up. The world can’t wait.”

In her keynote address, Dr. Linda de Cossart spoke about what it means to be a doctor. “Is being a doctor just another job?” she asked—before highlighting the great responsibility the students will face following graduation. Being a doctor is different, she suggested, “because the patients you will meet will be vulnerable; often at one of the lowest points in their lives.”

Commenting on the role of technology in medicine, and the concerns within some parts of the medical community that automation may remove the need for doctors, Dr. de Cossart said, “technological prowess and scientific knowledge are essential, but the thing that will define you as a doctor is how you deal with patients.” She emphasized that, while doctors must be adaptable and stay on top of technological advancements, their role as a compassionate figure providing reassurance and dignity to patients is not under threat.

Dr. de Cossart recounted how she learned these lessons from personal experience. Having decided to become a vascular surgeon, she was set back early in her career when—having run into the operating theatre to assist in an ongoing procedure, she fainted. Struggling to come to terms with what had happened, it was months later when Dr. de Cossart was diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening disease. While her recovery took a number of years, by seeking help and support from others, she went on to enjoy a long career—for 22 years as a Consultant Vascular and General Surgeon, and now as an Emeritus Consultant. In 1999, Dr. de Cossart was elected to the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons, where she served as Vice President—proving that even the greatest obstacles can be overcome.

“Surround yourself with help,” she implored the students. “You will need it.”

Lending the benefit of her experience as a world-leading surgeon, she cautioned the students to prepare for their first day as a qualified doctor. “You may feel ready, and you can have all the knowledge in the world. But until you are standing in front of a patient, having to make a decision that will impact their lives, you won’t know what it’s like.” Warning that this will be unnerving, she advised the students to embrace the responsibility. “Your professional development will be shaped by these experiences.”

“I hope some of the things I have said today have inspired you” were her parting words. The students’ applause confirmed that they had.