Musical medics

13th December 2010 by Judith Harvey

Twelve years ago James Gilchrist MRCP found himself at a career crossroads: he was on a prestigious medical rotation and he had a diary full of semi-professional singing engagements. He told me how he had gone to discuss his future with his consultant. “To my surprise, this eminent physician told me he himself had always regretted not having followed his own non-medical dream. He put it to me that I might come to the end of a medical career still wondering ‘What if?’ ” James left the rotation early to try his luck, intending to look for a new medical job if it didn’t work out.

He has never returned. Well, apart from a brief test hospital locum job which demonstrated to him that while consulting, like riding a bicycle, is a skill you never lose, you need to do enough of it not to be racked with anxiety about making a mistake. He considered general practice. Sessional GPs often have several strings to their bows. “ But I found I couldn’t do both medicine and music properly” says James. He chose singing.

His career as a lyric tenor is assured. After a concert at the Aldeburgh Festival, a member of the audience accosted him. “I used to tell you off for humming in my operating theatre. Now I have to fork out a fortune to listen to you.” But he is kept in touch with the world of medicine: his wife is a sessional GP.

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