I became doctor to please dad - and loved it


PROFESSOR Stephen Shalet is rated as Europe's most prominent hormone specialist.

Yet, Professor Shalet - who was Manchester's Christie Hospital's consultant endocrinologist for more than 30 years - reckons that he was extremely "privileged" to be able to practise a career he enjoyed.

The son of an East End GP, Dr Montague Shalet, who was serving as an army doctor, during the Second World War, Prof Shalet was born in Bedford - where his mother had been evacuated.

At the end of the war the family moved back to the East End.

At the age of nine, they moved to the other Jewish area of Stoke Newington, living next to the well-known Rabbi Pinter.

But Prof Shalet's memories of the period are of sports, rather than religion.

He recalled: "I was sports mad. I used to play a lot of football and cricket between the houses."

After attending local primary schools, Prof Shalet - who now lives in Derbyshire's Edale - "trailed across" London to the prestigious Westminster City Grammar School.

Then it was onto a career in medicine.

Prof Shalet said: "My father didn't tell me to be a doctor. He seemed happy being a doctor and I thought it would make him happy if I was a doctor too. The miracle was that I loved it."

Medical training at the London Hospital took him back to his childhood haunt of Whitechapel.

His father's medical practice in the area also gave him added invaluable training.

Prof Shalet explained: "A very formative part of my training came because my father was a GP in the East End of London.

"Once a month, on a Sunday morning, the London Jewish Hospital in Stepney Green held teaching sessions for local GPs to which famous hospital consultants came and brought patients.

"My dad would take me along. It was the most wonderful way to see the various Jewish stars of medicine, famous professors like Prof Harold Ellis, doyen figures of teaching, who would come on a Sunday morning."

Prof Shalet decided against general practice which he found "enormously restricting".

He said: "Hospital life was hugely stimulating. If you like your job, it transforms the nature of work. I was very privileged. Most people have to do a job. You would get a very mixed response as to how many people liked their jobs, like stacking shelves, or working at a check-out.

"As a student I had little in-between jobs. I worked at an accountant's office in north London. In one holiday I worked as a runner in the rag trade. These jobs had no intrinsic appeal for me. Adding up columns of figures is boring."

So why did Prof Shalet opt for endocrinology of all disciplines?

He said: "It is the mixture of science and people, the combination of the personal element and the fantastic science. You sit in a room and a patient, whom you have never seen before, comes in and starts to spill the beans about their life.

"I knew it needed people there like me. I did a year of pathology when I couldn't make my mind up which way to jump, to surgery or medicine. It didn't take long because I can't tie knots. Pathology meant no patients. You just had tissues, very scientific, a very interesting subject but I just missed the patients.

"The courses you do as a junior doctor are really learning about yourself, how you respond to the disciplines."

Prof Shalet explained that endocrinology is the study of disorders of glands like the thyroid and the pituitary which produce hormones and secrete them into the blood system.

Prof Shalet moved to Christie Hospital in 1974 as a research fellow in endocrinology and four years later was appointed a consultant.

He specialised in researching the effects of cancer treatment on the hormone glands.

He explained: "If you treat a child for a brain tumour with surgery and radiation and the child survives, the radiation can damage the pituitary gland and the child does not grow.

"Once you have a survivor, the focus is on the effects of the treatment.

"You want the child to maximise their life."

He added: "I treated the first child in the world with growth hormone after such treatment. I was only a research fellow then.

"It was probably only my ignorance that allowed me to do so because the more you learn the more scared you might have been. It is now standard treatment."

Although Prof Shalet formally retired at the end of 2005, he still works hard.

He said: "I teach quite a bit, where people ask me. I went to Beirut, Rotterdam and Italy recently to speak at universities and European endocrine meetings. It is pretty hectic. But, it's not work if you enjoy it."

Formerly a member of Cheshire's Menorah Synagogue, he has now retired to Edale, which he describes as a "lovely spot in the Hope Valley, near to a railway station, between Manchester and Sheffield".

Prof Shalet calls himself "very much a secular Jew though I retain my synagogue membership".

He said: "I am not a religious person although I was formally barmitzvah. But by religious standards, I am not a good Jew."

After first wife Caroline died in 2002, he married Barbara in 2008.

His son Daniel suffers from muscular dystrophy and lives independently in Heald Green, Cheshire, working as a machine operator, with his father keeping an eye on him, especially at weekends.

Daughter Rachel insists on using her Hebrew name Shashana.

Prof Shalet says: "Shashana Shalet is not easy to say."

Following in her father's footsteps, Shashana is a senior endocrine nurse at Salford Royal Hospital.

Prof Shalet added: "In my third age I am acquiring new parts. I recently received a new hip, I am gradually being rebuilt."

That doesn't stop him indulging in his favourite hobby of cycling over the hilly Peak District.

© 2013 Jewish Telegraph