Lives of the fellows

Michael Anthony Edward Symonds

b.1 April 1929 d.18 February 1997
MRCS LRCP(1958) MRCP(1968) FRCP(1981)

Michael was a consultant in genito-urinary medicine at St Bartholomews and at the Hackney Sector Hospitals in East London. The first member of the medical profession in his family, at school he was a keen sportsman - taking part in athletics and games, especially cricket where he was a promising spin-bowler. An accident in the chemistry laboratories where glass from a shattered flask severed the tendon to his right forefinger put paid to spin-bowling and cricket, though he continued to run and play rugby. After leaving school he started studying engineering, his choice of career influenced by the fact that he had a considerable natural ability in mathematics and a father who was an engineer. Though a committed student, engineering didn’t entirely satisfy his energies, whilst bridge, a game at which he excelled, at times competed with the official curriculum.

To date his contacts with medicine as a patient had not left him any very pleasant memories and indeed in the family he was known for the rather squeamish attitude he adopted to the minor cuts and bruises met with by himself and others. However he took a holiday job as a ward orderly on night duties at Bethnal Green, Mile End and St George’s Hospitals in the East End of London. This experience brought about a dramatic change of direction, inspiring him to pursue a career in medicine. There is also little doubt that the chronic illness of his mother who had developed multiple sclerosis also had an important influence on this decision. With full parental support engineering studies were supplanted by those necessary to gain entry to St Thomas’s where he qualified in 1958.

His first house jobs included a year at the Central Middlesex Hospital under Richard Asher [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.16], a post he enjoyed enormously and which, he said, taught him most of his medicine. He followed this with a year as junior hospital medical officer in the department of genito-urinary medicine at St Thomas’s, returning to general medicine with two years as a medical registrar at St Peter’s Hospital, Chertsey, and a year as a senior registrar at King’s College Hospital where he was physician in charge of admissions.

He always felt torn between general medicine and genito-urinary medicine and this equation was made more complex as he had now commenced some part time work in general practice and greatly enjoyed the experience. His mind was eventually made up however and he was appointed senior registrar to the genitourinary department at St Thomas’s followed by his first consultancy at Hackney Sector Hospitals in 1969. Further appointments followed, at the Herts and Essex General Hospital, Bishop’s Stortford and to St Bartholomew’s.

He enjoyed both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and taught regularly on the British Postgraduate Medical Federation’s courses in genito-urinary medicine, eventually becoming course organizer. Another favourite duty was that of examiner for the diploma in genito-urinary medicine at the Society of Apothecaries which he carried out for fourteen years, being the chairman of examiners from 1987 to 1992. He was a scrupulously fair examiner and was very conscious of the problems foreign candidates faced with the niceties of the English language and took the greatest care to ensure that questions were simply and unambiguously formulated. Examiners lunches were frequently enlivened by his anecdotes when he would sometimes display a rare talent for mimicry.

In 1981 he began private practice in Harley Street where his ability was soon recognized and he was consulted on a wide range of problems. He always liked private practice for the variety of patients seen. In addition to his new practice, at this time he was also a visiting physician at the BUPA Medical Centre, becoming their adviser on genito-urinary medicine until 1996.

He undertook his share of administrative work. He was chairman of the North East Thames Regional Health Authority’s advisory committee on genito-urinary medicine, clinical director of genito-urinary medicine at the Herts and Essex, chairman of the HIV/AIDS committee, as well as being their designated AIDS physician.

Frenetic work left little time for leisure, though, when in an attempt to lose some weight he took up running again, he found the exercise so enjoyable that he ran the London marathon on three occasions and all in good time. The last run exacted a price which was paid mainly by his feet. These long suffering organs complete with bruises and blisters were depicted in BUPA’s house journal as a warning to other potential runners.

He was not enamoured of foreign travel but, after visiting Greece and the Islands, like so many Englishmen before him, he fell in love with the region and he and his wife spent a number of holidays there. Weekends, or more usually Sundays, were spent at home where he and Rowena were most generous hosts. The company was always varied and the food and wines were always excellent. He was very fond of good wine and was a great hunter of bargain bottles which led to trips to some strange corners of the capital. Mike was a kind, generous and busy man who devoted his life to his work, a task which could not have been undertaken without the constant backing, love and support of his wife Rowena and their three children.

J K Oates

(Volume X, page 483)

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