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Observations BMJ Confidential

John Tooke: The hunt for brown trout

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 25 November 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6245


John Tooke sprang to national prominence in 2007 when asked to lead an inquiry into Modernising Medical Careers, the new training structure for doctors. His report was generally welcomed and led to the creation of Medical Education England, the precursor to Health Education England. Originally a specialist in diabetes and vascular medicine, Tooke led the bid to establish the Peninsula Medical School and became its inaugural dean in 2000. From 2009 to July 2015 he was head of the School of Life and Medical Sciences at University College London and academic director of UCL Partners. He is president of the Academy of Medical Sciences and a director of BUPA.

What was your earliest ambition?

To play rugby for England, but premature fusion of the epiphyses and a lack of speed and talent prevailed. My early career leanings were towards marine biology (inspired by Hans and Lotte Hass) or architecture. With the benefit of hindsight, medicine emerged as a goal in my early teenage years after delays in the diagnosis of my mother’s brain tumour.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

In my professional life I’ve had many role models, but most inspiring have been those in ill health who have shown such fortitude in the face of adversity. In July this year I was fortunate enough to receive an honorary degree from the University of Edinburgh, and a fellow recipient was Gordon Aikman, who had had motor neurone disease diagnosed the previous year. He has dedicated his life to defeating the disease ( and spoke eloquently about his predicament, his feelings, and his aspirations. I was blown away, along with the rest of the audience.

What was the worst mistake of your career?

Probably not leaving the Peninsula Medical School, which I had led …

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