I qualified from Guys Hospital Medical School in London, England in 1978, over 30 years ago. Fabulous medical school – enjoyed it very much!
I was fortunate enough to be a prize winner and the prize sent me off to Africa – Central Africa to Zambia and many years later, when I was doing my dermatology residency here in Vancouver, I found the link back to that trip to Africa.
It’s very strange. I was working at St. Paul’s and we were seeing a lot of patients with skin problems due to Aids – HIV disease. At that time, the cure, or the treatment for aids was still being developed. It wasn’t very effective so we were seeing a lot of people with very advanced skin problems. A lot of suffering; a lot of human angst, and it occurred to me that I’d actually seen aids right back at the beginning in 1978 when I was in Africa because of the missionary doctor in the little hospital I was working in, on the border of Angola and Zaire (actually it got bombed about two months before I got there).
She said “There’s a new disease and I don’t know what it is, but its killing people like flies and they’re dying of ordinary things like measles and T.B” and it was Aids! And one of the funerals I witnessed there was the local chief and he had about 12 wives and heaven knows how many concubines. So, of course he was a prime target to be one of the earliest. This brave, determined missionary doctor had noticed this and she’d been sending out specimens to the Liverpool hospital for tropical diseases for 3 years, so in hindsight I saw the beginnings of Aids, but I’ve seen many marvellous things happen. I’ve seen all those skin problems from aids go away as the AIDS treatment has improved, improved, improved. Just like I’ve seen a lot of the problems in cosmetic dermatology go away as the technology has improved. And I’ve been fortunate enough to be surfing this wave all the way through my career.
After Africa, I came back to England but I could never settle in an English general practice. I went to Australia; I’ve worked with Australian aborigines, I worked with miners in iron ore mines – fascinating experience. I’ve worked with flying doctors; I used to fly into small communities. I was a real doctor and that’s what I wanted to be back in those days. Dermatology was my first love and I knew I’d go back to it but I wanted to be a doctor that could handle anything, so we dealt with the car crashes, the snake bites, the poisonous fish – Australia is full of poisonous things. We had this case of poisonous specimens and we’d take the poor victim in front of the case and say “Which one was it that did it to you?” you know, and they’d choose which of the fish or the spider or the octopus or whatever it was that did the damage; and then we’d know what treatment to use. So that was Australia.
From there, I became a cruise ship doctor; and a lot of people think… “Cruise ship doctor? That sounds like a pretty sissy sort of life!” but it’s not. I had 2-3000 people in my care. Anything could happen any time. I had a range of nationalities through US Citizens, right the way through to the most humble tribesman from the edge of Afghanistan, who just happened by historical accident to work on these particular cruise ships.
So I’ve had a fascinating career. I’ve looked after people of all types and all walks of life. After the cruise ships, I worked on a little Caribbean Island called Mustique. A very exclusive island and yet, although I was looking after billionaires, royalty and very famous pop stars; I was also looking after their staff. Their servants, the labourers who would just play cricket in their shirt sleeves and a pair of ragged shorts at the end of a day’s work. So I’ve always enjoyed looking after the full spectrum of humanity; it’s always given me pleasure.
From there, the Caribbean because I happened to meet a wonderful Canadian girl, who’s the mother of my children and here in Canada I was fortunate enough to start off my career working on the Indian reserves with First Nations. In fact, all my first research in dermatology was centered around First Nations because no one else seemed to be particularly interested in that and I had access to doing studies in that field.
The dermatology residency at UBC was excellent training and a lovely field to go into, and as I’ve already mentioned I just happened to go in to this just as Botox was developing. Skin fillers were getting better; one of our numbers had just done a fellowship at Harvard on lasers because laser technology was just starting to get good.
I waited another 5 years before I got into cosmetic stuff because I wanted to wait until it got really good. Now we have superb technology. Our results are mainly predictable and we can do great things for your skin.
And I can tell you a good yarn along the way or two as well.