Ultimately it would be for Victoire to decide. If she felt that a chat with me about being a doctor might help, her parents and I had pencilled in a possible time and place for us to meet. 

I was a few minutes late and Victoire’s father, Mathieu, greeted me saying that she was indeed interested in finding out more and had already prepared some questions. 

Next, a serious-looking Victoire appeared with the poise of a student that belied her age. We then sat down at a garden table and the discussion that followed was truly inspiring. Interestingly, it arose by chance.

The houses on either side of our cottage in Brittany are used for summer lets. Originally, when our garden hedges were still patchy, hearing and seeing others as we went about our business was inevitable. Indeed, ‘Hellos’ would be exchanged and occasionally an afternoon tea arranged.  

More recently, as the hedges have thickened our neighbours go almost unnoticed. Occasionally we see and hear snippets, but rarely much more. Last week something unusual happened.

After ten days of their two-week stay, I had a sketchy picture of the holiday makers on our right – a French couple with a daughter who I thought was aged ten or eleven. There was also a talkative terrier.  

The drive leading from the bottom of their garden turns sharply as it enters the road. I happened to be walking past their entrance when their dog, who I now know is a West Highland White Terrier named Luciole (Firefly), ran out from the drive to investigate. She then rushed back and forth barking, apparently wanting to ‘introduce’ me to her owners. Mathieu and his wife Stéphanie soon appeared to see what the noise was about and, following close behind, was Victoire. I did not know them at all at that stage. 

I explained that I was their neighbour and, after a brief chat, jokingly said to Victoire, as indeed I have to a myriad of young people before  “I imagine you want to become a doctor”. To my amazement and delight she said ‘Yes’. After telling her that I was once a doctor and that she had chosen to follow a wonderful career, I said my good byes and left.

The next day I spoke through the hedge to Mathieu and Stéphanie and suggested that if Victoire really wanted to be a doctor and if she had not yet had a chance to talk to someone with a medical background, I would be happy to answer any questions she might have. They decided to put to her the idea of a question-and-answer session.

The garden rendezvous next day started with introductions. Having confirmed that she wanted to become a doctor, she told me that she was thirteen years old and at a secondary school. I repeated that I was a retired doctor, adding that once I was a medical professor. 

Then, for almost an hour and with unswerving intensity she asked her questions and responded to my answers. When I was teaching there were always some students who looked at me directly and took in everything that was said – similarly with Victoire. Moreover, the capacity of her mind was matched by her questions.  Of her prepared questions – there were three – the first two were important but matter-of-fact: “What is the most difficult thing about studying medicine?” and “Is there a good method of working as a student?” Her third, I have been mulling over for years: “Is it difficult to make a sound diagnosis and if so, why?”

It was already difficult to believe that I was with someone so young but with the next three questions I was staggered. Importantly, this second set had arisen as we were talking. “Can medicines, if prescribed in large amounts, damage patients and, if so, are these higher doses necessary?” Here was a question that doctors, particularly those involved in treating patients with cancer, still struggle over. Next, “How should you break the news of the death of a patient to those close?” In UK medical schools, breaking bad news takes up hours of teaching time; in France it still attracts little attention! It was as though she knew. Finally, “Can people always sense if they have a cancer?” This fascinating question still baffles patients who feel well and are told, for instance that they have cancer. How could Victoire have such insight? 

Answering her questions about medicine was a challenge and a privilege. How odd it was that by chance I had met someone who, even at an early age had such understanding and clarity of mind. Seeing an advantage in sitting down to chat with someone more than six times her age is pretty remarkable too. It is interesting that our meeting only happened after we had been ‘introduced’ by Luciole, her very sociable terrier.

For helping me write this blog, I would like to thank Victoire, Mathieu, Stéphanie, Rohan and Vivien.

The illustration is a photo of Firefly who, once she had got to know me, posed with evident pleasure!

10 thoughts on ““I Want to be a Doctor”

  1. Well done Joe. It sounds as if you’ve been inspiring the next generation of doctors!

    In our experience, having a dog is a real ice breaker in starting conversations with strangers. My husband says that people would not stop and talk to him, if he was walking on his own, were it not for the fact that he had our dog with him.

    Hope all is well with you and I’m sure your French continues to go from strength to strength since our time at the Institut français!

    Norma

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    1. Dear Norma, Thank you very much for your comments – how nice it is to hear from you again. It was certainly the case here that Firefly did the introductions and made the interview possible. My French is slowly improving. Are you still going to classes. Yours, Joe

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  2. What fascinating questions, Joe! Victoire indeed sounds like a very thoughtful girl, and will – with your help no doubt – make a very good doctor. I wish, though, we could have heard the answers too… next blog perhaps? Anyhow, what a lovely post…

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    1. Dear Merrily, Many thanks for your comments. While Victoire repeated how she was determined to be a doctor, we all know how dreams change. I expect that I will never know what happens.
      My answers to her questions were quite detailed and, I am afraid, would make for an overlong and rather boring blog. However, next time we meet, and if you remember the questions, we two could have a session together. How about that? Love,Joe

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  3. Dear Joe,

    What a lovely story! It seems that Victoire will be well on her way to becoming an excellent doctor- what amazing insight for such a young girl!

    Love

    Robin

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  4. Joe: Thank you for this lovely and charming piece. Lucky you to meet her– but also lucky Victoire and her patients to be. The fact that I read your piece within hours of watching Emma Raducanu at play made it seem all the more credible and vivid. We need phenomenal as the new norm….

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    1. Dear Charles, Thank you very much for your kind comments. You are right about Emma Raducanu – what an extraordinary young woman. As a teacher I was always being reminded how very gifted and diligent youth is. And of course amongst them were those who were/are outstanding. Oldies such as us are very lucky. Love,Joe

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  5. What a wonderful uplifting story of Professor Joe once again, sharing his knowledge and insight.

    I’m sure you will find out what happens next as Victoire will remember you, your kindness and where you live.

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    1. Dear Carolyn, Many thanks for your generous comments – but, the story was not about me but Victoire who very much shared her knowledge and insight. I have wondered if I will ever know if she becomes a doctor. It would be nice to be around to hear – I would be well over 90! Love, Joe

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