Image Caption: Professor Vassilios Papalois
What do you do and what motivates you to work in this field?
“My aspiration for following the field of transplantation specifically came during my elective in the United States at the University of Minnesota, which was at the time – and still is – the biggest transplant program in the world. There, I met my mentor David Sutherland who was a force of nature, and what was really admirable was how he combined clinical work with academic work. He managed to see all the questions we were facing in clinical practice, go to the laboratory to get the answers, and then come back and implement them in clinical practice. This constant cycle between clinical challenge, translational research, and back to clinical practice was absolutely fantastic to see. It was there and then that I decided this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.”
“For me, medicine was always the ultimate challenge. I wanted to do something in my life which was really worth it. Then when I got into medicine, all I wanted to do was the ultimate challenge in medicine which, in my opinion, was surgery.”
“Beyond the fact that it is the ultimate challenge, surgery gives you the ultimate reward. For example, when you finish a transplant, the patient wakes up and you tell them everything went well, just to see the expression on their faces is priceless. It’s irreplaceable. You can’t replace this with all the money in the world, all the glory in the world, and all the positions in the world. It is absolutely priceless, and I think it makes all the difference in the world.”
Why did you get involved in the cumbria school of medicine project?
“I had a bunch of ideas as to how we can support our students with their professional development because currently, we don’t have anything in place to help them from the day they enter medical school all the way to graduation and beyond. But then Amir Sam, the Head of the Medical School, told me about this new project and how it’s actually ideal for that because it’s brand new, so you can design it from scratch.”
“Most importantly, the purpose of this medical school is not to give the UK another 50 or 100 doctors, it’s to give Cumbria 50 or 100 doctors, the majority of whom will stay in the area, practice in the area, and help the area get an advanced healthcare system. But for this, they need professional development support, so it was fantastic to see the opportunity.
“I then met my other colleagues and I saw what a fantastic team they are–very highly motivated with amazing ideas in place, and that’s why I joined.”
What is your role and what do you bring to the team?
“I bring a lot of experience with matters related to professional development and tutoring, and support of colleagues at all levels of their career. I have over 30 years of that experience within the NHS, academia, and internationally as well, because I had – and still have – leading positions in many major national and international organisations, where professional development was my main focus, so I can bring this experience to the team and project in Cumbria.”
“But all this has to be translated to the needs of the area of Cumbria, for healthcare in Cumbria. You cannot copy and paste things that you have done some other place to Cumbria. You need to understand how the whole system works, what are the needs and how can we address those needs.”
What are your aspirations for the school?
“Personally, I find it very exciting to be part of designing a new medical school. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. How many people have this unique honour and privilege to be part of creating a new medical school from scratch? So it’s absolutely fantastic, but even more so, what really motivates me is this idea of helping a whole community. This is a completely new challenge and to feel that you contributed to it – It is an amazing feeling. Especially when you are my age, when you start thinking about your legacy.”
What should prospective students expect?
“The first thing I’m going to ask them is, what is your overall direction of travel? Where do you see yourself in 10 years? This is a crucial question. If the answer to this is, I want to be in a molecular biology laboratory in a high-profile institution with buckets of money for research, then this is not the medical school for you. But if people see themselves five to 10 years down the road as a member of this community and part of the regeneration of this community, then they are on the right track, and we can support them.”