Observations BMJ Confidential

Pali Hungin: Racing beyond the boundary

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j3549 (Published 26 July 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j3549


Pali Hungin, founding dean of medicine at Durham University, is a professor of primary care and general practice and president of the BMA. Brought up in east Africa, he then trained at Newcastle and became a GP in Eaglescliffe, County Durham, while maintaining an interest in gastroenterology, on which he has written extensively. He has championed the GP’s role in research and led the creation of UK research networks. He used to relax by grass track racing, although the car is now beyond repair, he says. His unrealised ambition is to become a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club. Can anyone help?

What was your earliest ambition?

To win the East African Safari Motor Rally.

What was your best career move?

Accepting the RCGP research fellowship in my 40s.

What was the worst mistake in your career?

Assuming that an academic environment would be more streamlined and efficient than work in the NHS and would present fewer obstacles.

How is your work-life balance?

Better now, after having learnt the futility of success in personal progression.

How do you keep fit and healthy?

A brisk walk to the pub.

What single change would you like to see made to the NHS?

Better appreciation of how society, people, and medicine have changed and that, as doctors, we need to adapt more quickly. People are central to us.

What do you wish that you had known when you were younger?

That friendships, loyalty, and love matter more than other things and that what seems serendipitous is meant for you.

Do doctors get paid enough?

It depends on what you mean by “enough.”

To whom would you most like to apologise?

My parents, because I thought that they’d never been young themselves.

What do you usually wear to work?

A dark blue turban.

Which living doctor do you most admire, and why?

Several who have taken care of me: Donald Irvine, Denis Pereira Gray, Kenneth Calman, and Liam Donaldson. But particularly Roger Jones, who opened new worlds for so many of us from general practice.

What is the worst job you have done?

Repairing a customer’s car badly and causing grief at my father’s garage.

What single unheralded change has made the most difference in your field in your lifetime?

The democratisation of medical knowledge, and societal and technological changes that are leading to a paradigm shift in the role of doctors.

What new technology or development are you most looking forward to?

Advances in clinical science, earlier and more accurate diagnoses with personalised management, and the way we will relate to patients in the future.

What book should every doctor read?

Beyond a Boundary by C L R James. Ostensibly about cricket, it’s really more about life than the game itself.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

The skill with which I can fritter away time without any discernible outcome.

Where are or when were you happiest?

Celebrations with family and friends.

What television programmes do you like?

Live cricket and the Movie Channel, especially cold war thrillers and well made contemporary dramas.

What personal ambition do you still have?

With the promise of so many exciting advances in medicine, I wish that I was just restarting my clinical career.

Summarise your personality in three words

Optimistic, opportunistic, resilient, and dogged.

What is your pet hate?

People accepting what others say without questioning it or being constructively critical.

What would be on the menu for your last supper?

No answer . . .

What poem, song, or passage of prose would you like mourners at your funeral to hear?

“Time present and time past,” from Burnt Norton by T S Eliot.

Is the thought of retirement a dream or a nightmare?

More like a bit of something else on the way.

If you weren’t in your present position what would you be doing instead?

Establishing a global think tank about the future of medicine and doctors. Alternatively, chasing cricket teams and concerts around the world—there have been worse dreams!

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