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Teresa Krystyna Szulęcka

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 03 November 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5841
  1. Karel de Pauw

Teresa Krystyna Szulęcka was born in Radomle, Poland, now in Ukraine, to a farming family, the eldest of three children, the others being a sister and a brother. According to family lore, her mother put the newborn on a handcart to flee from the advancing Russians. In later years her father wondered whether this experience explained why she had such a desire to keep travelling. After the war her parents were resettled on a farm near Sztum, south of Gdansk. She was schooled locally and after graduating from the Sztum gymnasium trained as a dentist in Gdansk. She did not find the work satisfying, however, and went on to obtain a physician’s diploma from the Academy of Medicine in Krakow, a city that remained close to her heart even during her later years in England. Here she was an active member of a student hiking and diving club and established firm friendships that were to last the rest of her life. Although she had abandoned the religious beliefs of her childhood early on, she found the company of Catholic students far more agreeable and intellectually honest than those of her non-believer peers who were, invariably, unprincipled careerists and party hacks. Earlier, in Gdansk, she had chosen to belong to the Polish Students’ Association rather than join the Union of Socialist Youth, despite the fact that membership of the latter facilitated future job and career prospects.

Life before and after graduation in Krakow was difficult for Krystyna. As a student she fell ill with tuberculosis, and the salaries of young doctors were so paltry that she sometimes went hungry. Frustrated by the unrewarding working conditions in communist Poland, she dreamed instead of working as a doctor in Nigeria. She was advised to learn English in the first instance and, typically …

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