Lives of the fellows

David Michel Chaput de Saintonge

b.1 October 1942 d.30 December 2014
BSc Lond(1963) MB BS(1966) MRCP(1969) PhD(1978) FRCP(1986) MFPM(1999)

David Chaput de Saintonge (or ‘Mark’ as he was known to his colleagues) was director of clinical studies at Bart’s and the London School of Medicine. He was born in Crediton, Devon, and always retained a great love for the West Country and its people. His father, Rolland Alfred Aimé Chaput de Saintonge, was a priest; his mother, Barbara, was a teacher. In 1947, the family moved to London and a few years later to Chipstead, Surrey. He attended Whitgift School, Croydon, and went on to the London Medical School, where he changed his name to Mark. He qualified in 1966.

After house jobs on the Isle of Man and in Nottingham, he returned to the London, where he remained. He became a consultant physician and a senior lecturer in clinical pharmacology and developed a keen interest in teaching. His job as a physician in the then Jewish East End was varied and tough. He loved the area, the patients and their diversity. He remembered many with affection and one in particular. While he was still a junior doctor, an Iranian patient gave him a small silver bowl as a gift, thanking him for being the only person to listen and hear him and to tell him the truth about his illness. This was typical of Mark, always a good listener, honest and direct and a good diagnostician.

Apart from his many research papers, he developed an early interest in doctors’ decision-making, academic support for medical students and inter-related issues in medicine. This led to him becoming head of the new department of clinical skills at Bart’s and the London School of Medicine.

Mark retired early in 1999 and returned to his name ‘David’, which is what his family and friends outside the hospital always called him. He embarked on a new career as education director of PRIME (Partnerships in International Medical Education), a Christian charity promoting compassionate whole person healthcare. This, he said, was the happiest time of his career. Travelling to Russia, Albania, Romania and many other countries, he was able to teach, combining his medical knowledge and his Christian faith. He counselled, loved and touched the hearts of many struggling to become good doctors in developing countries.

As well as teaching, David wrote manuals and materials for teaching ‘whole person medicine’, a model that encompassed physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. He applied himself to writing about teaching teachers and co-wrote The good teacher: a values-based approach (St Leonard on Sea, PRIME Partnerships in International Medical Education, 2013), a manual of how to teach medical teachers.

When teaching David had a highly engaging interactional style, so much so that every person felt they were being spoken to personally. A large group is just a lot of small groups, he would say and we teach one by one. It really did feel like that. Many saw and emulated him. He was inspirational and enthused, encouraged and equipped many new doctors, students and teachers for an effective, compassionate career in medicine in their countries. He had a huge heart for his overseas colleagues and was greatly loved and respected. The relationships he encouraged in Russia are still bearing fruit. His books are being translated into Russian and will be used across Russia to herald in a new era of whole person healthcare.

In 1971 he married Gail, a medical social worker he met at the London Hospital. They had three sons, of whom he was immensely proud. He loved his family and family life, and returning home after his travels was always a joy. Their home was always open, with the promise of a good meal, a glass of wine and a listening ear. David’s strong Christian faith was fundamentally important to him and shaped his life and values. He was a member of his local Baptist church for over 30 years, where he served as an elder for 12 years. He often taught and preached. He had an immense curiosity and developed many hobbies, including cooking (his curries were legendary!) eating, gardening and the arts.

In 2009 he was diagnosed with aggressive metastatic prostate cancer and with his usual unfailing courage he determined to live life to the full. David became increasingly creative. He always loved beauty and nature, seeing the world as part of God’s creation. He was always a positive and thankful man. He thought and prayed deeply about death and after death, and he wrote many beautiful poems expressing this spiritual journey. These were published as Sharing the journey: moving from grief to hope (PRIME Partnerships in International Medical Education, 2013). He wanted these poems to help others in end of life situations and to bring them the hope which sustained him.

He will be remembered for his determination and courage, his quirky sense of humour and his generous heart. He was humble and conscientious, paying great attention to detail. Above all he was a teacher, keen to encourage growth in others and to pass on freely his skills and knowledge. In his last years he exhibited thoughtful and beautiful photographs, many of which are displayed at the local hospice.

Always creative, active, thoughtful and sensitive, David will be missed by many people.

Gail Chaput de Saintonge

[BMJ 2015 350 2664]

(Volume XII, page web)

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