What does a jazz band, a ghost train and a figure in dark goggles have in common? They are all part of the NHS 70 memories of Professor Ralph McCready.
As a houseman I had the privilege of working for Professor Frank Pantridge, inventor of the defibrillator. I was fascinated by his catheter lab with the combination of physiology and radiology. So I decided to become a radiologist but was advised to go to England (from Northern Ireland) and obtain an impressive degree so that I could return if I wished. So I went to Guy’s Hospital, London to study for an MSc in Radiation Physics and Biology and the Diploma in Medical Radiodiagnosis (DMRD), paying my own fees.
Guy’s Radiology Department was interesting. The radiology chief was Dr Tom Hills who smoked cigars, had a tiny lead apron over the appropriate parts and had made an automatic wet X-ray film processing system.
It was obvious I would never get a radiology job at Guy’s coming from Belfast, speaking strangely, and not having the MRCP (Membership of the Royal College Physicians examination) so I applied for a Senior House Officer (SHO) position at the Hammersmith Hospital London where everybody was equal.
At the Hammersmith I was told by the other applicants that I would not get the job as I had come from Belfast. However I was determined to leave the interview with my head held high. I was first in to the SHO interview and was amazed to see a long row of people on the other side of the table headed by Professor Robert Steiner. He opened the questioning by asking why I was a member of the Musician’s Union. I explained that all my colleagues in the White Eagles Jazz Band had failed their exams, left the University and turned professional. To continue to play with them I had to join the Union. Then I was asked what else I had done, so rising to the occasion I told them I had been the ghost in a ghost train in an Amusement Park. I was bored so I connected the light over the skeleton to be permanently on. The little children came out saying that there was a ghost reading the Daily Telegraph beside the skeleton. Of course nobody believed them and the people outside poured in to see what was going on.
I emerged from the interview after forty minutes to tell the other candidates how awful the interview had been. I was appointed to the position! Professor Steiner used me to do all the odd jobs in the X-ray department for the next two years. As the junior doctor I worked in the dark with the oldest Watson X-ray set. Every time I took an erect X-ray the large steel edged cassette containing the film would slide across and usually fall out of the carriage landing on the floor with a loud crash frightening everybody in the darkened room.
It was a time of great innovation at the Hammersmith: the first renal transplant was carried out; micturating cystograms were started. After initial problems with old ladies standing up in the dark being unable to ‘pee’ when the urine hit the steel bucket with a tinkle, the problem was solved by lining the bucket with sound deadening polythene. Friday was ladies’ day when I was the only radiologist who performed Hysterosalpingography. It was done in a small room with a boiling water sterilizer in the corner. When I came out to view the films the steam poured out of the door and I would appear in a cloud of steam as a fearsome figure wearing large dark goggles and a long lead apron to the consternation of the waiting mixture of NHS and private practice ladies.
Professor Steiner was a great leader and inspiration. I will always be grateful to him appointing me to a job in the Hammersmith to start my career in the NHS. https://www.rcr.ac.uk/college/obituaries/professor-robert-steiner
About Ralph McCready
I graduated in Medicine from Queen’s University Belfast and then worked as a Houseman in the Royal Victoria Hospital. When I came to England I studied for the MSc in Radiation Physics and Biology and the Diploma in Radiodiagnosis at Guy’s Hospital London. After working as an SHO in Radiology at the Hammersmith Hospital I was appointed to a research position at the Institute of Cancer Research in Sutton, Surrey. With the development of a Nuclear Medicine Department at the Royal Marsden Hospital I became the consultant in charge for over 40 years. In 1987 I was awarded a DSc by Queen’s University Belfast, the British Institute of Radiology Barclay Prize in 1973, an Hon. FRCR in 1975, an Honorary Fellowship of the Faculty of Radiologists Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland in 1992 and made an Honorary Member of the Japanese Radiological Society also in 1992. I was appointed to a personal chair in Radiological Sciences in the Institute of Cancer Research in 1990.
As a founder member of the British Nuclear Medicine Society I have recently co-edited a book celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Society and the development of radionuclide studies in the UK.https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-319-28624-2