Edinburgh, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Western General Hospital
Currently I am a Consultant in Critical Care at St Johns Hospital, Livingston and Royal Infirmary Edinburgh.
HONOURS MBBS BSc (Neuroscience HONS): Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery; Bachelor of Science; Member of Royal College of Physicians; Fellow of the Royal Collage of Anaesthetists; Fellow of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine
This is Episode 3 of the electric voice theatre podcast series “Women of Science & Music: 30 celebrations” first released on 11th June 2020.
Critical Care Doctor Thalia Monro-Somerville joins Science Historian Catherine Booth (Retired Science Curator at National Library of Scotland) to discuss her career in the light of the current Covid-19 pandemic and the life and work of another Scottish Doctor – Adeline Campbell – who was working on the front line during WW1.
My mother is a working artist, Susanna Bailey, so I grew up very much in the Arts world. I have not been blessed with her artistic genes, but I love theatre, music, ballet and literature and have been lucky enough to have good friends to share these with.
SOUND FILES COMING SOON!
I started at a tiny country primary school in Bath, called Swainswick Primary School. Swainswick encouraged incorporating a standard primary education with the arts, imagination, expression and nature. We all had so much fun, we had no idea that we were learning. We spent hours doing hedgerow studies, writing stories sitting up in a tree, making papermache worlds and enjoying historical drama days when we would dress up for a day of immersive experiential education.
I went to a Girls Comprehensive secondary school in Bath called Hayesfield School for Girls. I was very lucky to have an extraordinary head teacher called John Bartholemew, who saw each student in their own light and subsidised a wealth of opportunities for us all to experience the wider world. He took us to the opera, the theatre, started an arts appreciation class and encouraged us to reach for the stars. He and his carefully guided staff really set us on a road of discovery and love of learning. Hayesfield, as many state schools, struggled with funding and resources, but had bright and invested teachers who enjoyed their pupils and gave us the opportunity for a stellar education, not just in the conventional scholarly manner, but also teaching us to solve life’s problems, look for solutions and most of all how to enjoy, respect and appreciate what you have.
I started learning Latin and classical history outside of school when I was 13 with a gorgeous lady called Wendy Hartley. I met with her once or twice a week and with tea and scrumptious toast, she guided me through Latin and Classics GCSE. These evenings with Wendy were so much more than learning an ancient language – she taught me how to truly love a language, to revel in the words and the sounds and live through the stories. At a time when I was a gawky, geeky, overly tall, clumsy teenager, she showed me how a woman could achieve the highest accolades, maintain grace and humor, and could be anything she wanted to be. Wendy meant the world to me and gave my teenage years structure, solace and peace.
I went to sixth form at a boys private school which had recently started accepting girls at sixth form: King Edwards School. I had chosen to go to King Edwards to continue Latin and Classics. I had the best time, was indulged with a well provisioned and elegant education and made wonderful friends. Sue Curtis, the drama teacher, created outstanding opportunities to become involved in a several massive school productions. She gave us the opportunity to experiment with how to express yourself, push the boundaries and challenge the rules. It was during this period that I decided to apply to medical school. Despite good grades and an aptitude for learning, this was the first time I met with resistance. My chemistry teacher and the careers advisor openly advised me that I was not the right material for medicine and that I should pursue a less ‘challenging’ career. Despite ongoing discussions, my Chemistry teacher refused to support my application. To this day, I don’t know whether this was blinding misogyny or brilliant reverse psychology, but it was the first time that I remember thinking ‘sod you’ and was delighted to be accepted to Imperial College of Medicine, at the time the 2nd highest performing medical school in the UK.
Imperial opened the big door into the rest of the world. I was privileged to have been taught by some of science’s finest minds. I loved every second of medicine, and my path of passion was secure. I did miss the arts, however, and looking back, most of my longstanding friends during that time were not from medicine, but from other backgrounds.
Thalia at work
Goodies Delicatessen Counter Staff Andy encouraged us to sample all the cheese and charcuterie. We had breakfast croissants hot from the oven and baguette for lunch. Great fun and definitely piled on a few pounds.
Waitressing and Bar Work I always had a waitressing/bar job from aged 14 to 26 when I finally graduated from medicine. I enjoyed the atmosphere and trying to improve each customer’s day with a smile. Many of my longstanding friends have been from these jobs, all of which I remember fondly.
Scoffs Counter Staff At fifteen, this was one of the coolest jobs in town and was a guaranteed ticket into the best parties and music events. Just the best people – warm, fun, mischievous and hard working – a great combination for any career.
GP administration staff Helping digitalise patient records.
Tall ships Crew Escorting team of young people as the crewed The Stavros S Niarchos Tall ship around Ireland
Doctor in the following institutions:
Cornwall, Royal Cornwall Hospital: Foundation Doctor
Dundee, Ninewells Hospital: Junior registrar, acute common care stem and anaesthesia
Glasgow, Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Queen Elizabeth University Hospital: Specialist registrar, anaesthesia and critical care
Lanarkshire, Monklands Hospital, Wishaw Hospital, Hairmyres Hospital: Specialist registrar anaesthesia and critical care
Edinburgh, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Western General Hospital: Specialist registrar anaesthesia and critical care
I have loved my career in critical care medicine. It is a particularly privileged area of medicine where you experience people and their loved ones at their most vulnerable. It will never cease to amaze me how welcomed you are into families during such challenging times. Helping and supporting them during their experience of critical illness is exceptionally rewarding both from a medical/academic point of view, but also from a human and compassionate respect. I feel tremendously proud to work with a phenomenal team of highly skilled and motivated individuals who create an amazing balance of care that allows patients and their families to take comfort in the care they are receiving during an undeniably difficult time.
Thalia and family
Did You Know?
Nobody in my family is a medic, which means they have no idea really what I do. It still makes me laugh and roll my eyes when I hear them explaining to other people what they think I do!
I am one of 4 sisters, and love them all very dearly. We all speak most days.
My husband laughs at my every growing list of my favourite things! Today my favourite thing is marmalade on toast and cashmere socks!
My happiest place is at home with my family, in the garden, on the sofa, up a hill, in the sun, but when I am with them.
I can whistle up a cake in a matter of seconds and love it when the house smells of fresh vanilla sponge.
My parents gave me the best golden ticket, a superb education, I am thankful for this every day. I have never stopped loving to learn.
An Inspiring Woman
In my personal and professional life, I am lucky enough to have many shining examples of women who have inspired and supported me. If you distill down their attributes across many different metiers and backgrounds, the foundations are always kindness, honesty, open mindedness, inquisitive disposition and humble hard graft. They are all wicked storytellers too and can roll in the aisle with laughter. They have been superb and consistent role models.
More public female figures include: Tarana Burke, Sheryl Sanderburg, Isabel Allende, Margaret Hamilton, Maria Montisorri, Miriam Makeba, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sylvia Earle, Nettie Stevens, Marie Curie. All women who have worked against the odds with passion, and who have tried to make the world a fairer, kinder and more sustainable and accepting place.