Memoirs of an Oxford medical student 1967-70

Osler House, Woodstock Rd

More than 50 years after graduating from Oxford University Medical School, I found a boxful of letters and diaries which I had written during my clinical course. To a naive 20-year-old from a rather sheltered home background, whose first degree at Leeds University had involved more work than play, life in Oxford was a revelation – intellectually, socially and emotionally. My memory for the past is fairly patchy and though I clearly recall some of the people, places and events described, I have forgotten many others which were obviously significant at the time. I was known by my maiden name, Jenny Collins.

The course was mainly based at the old Radcliffe Infirmary in Woodstock Rd. For some attachments we visited the Churchill Hospital, where I would later become a junior doctor and eventually a consultant, Cowley Road Hospital, and the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre. The Radcliffe Infirmary was closed in 2007 and its site is now occupied by university offices. The hub of student life was Osler House (not to be confused with the present clubhouse of the same name on the John Radcliffe site) an 18th century listed building in the hospital grounds. Downstairs was a lounge, bar and kitchen. Morning coffee and afternoon tea were provided free. Upstairs were bedrooms for use when on call. There was an attractive garden with a croquet lawn. Each student also had an attachment to an Oxford college – mine was Somerville – but being postgraduate did not live in. My first few months were spent lodging in Summertown with the mother of a family friend, the widow of a bishop and a keen supporter of Moral Rearmament. After I had moved into my own flat, my former landlady continued to invite me for dinner on Sunday evenings.

Our intake contained only 18 or 20 students. Being divided into even smaller groups for clinical attachments, we got a great deal of individual attention from our teachers. For me, as one of the few women in a male-dominated environment, this was often of a kind which would not be tolerated nowadays. As well as clerking patients we were given considerable responsibility for practical procedures such as taking blood, putting up drips, lumbar punctures, delivering babies, and assisting with surgical operations.

There were periods of intense activity – on take for medicine and surgery, night deliveries in obstetrics, preparing for exams. But otherwise the pace of work was fairly leisurely and allowed time for a vibrant social life. Lunches, dinners, parties and outings were frequent and usually involved vast quantities of food and drink. I sang in the hospital choir and in my final year played a good fairy in the students’ pantomime, Tingewick. I must have done a certain amount of studying but most of my free time seems to have been spent entertaining friends for supper or afternoon tea, making my own dresses, listening to pop music, or walking around Oxford which was then a peaceful place with few cars. Several of my friends did have cars, and when they were driving north would give me lifts home at weekends. It was a privileged and mostly hugely enjoyable life which, I imagine, was far more relaxed and informal than for clinical students today.

Much of what I wrote is too trivial, personal or libellous to publish, but maybe I will adapt some extracts for a series of blog posts, a memoir of a novel. Meanwhile I’d be pleased to hear from anyone who remembers those times.

2 thoughts on “Memoirs of an Oxford medical student 1967-70

  1. When you read those letters and diaries can you see your modern 2022 self in them, or are you now an entirely different person? I went up to Cambridge in 1974, but today I find it difficult to believe I was that person…my time there was an extraordinary period in an otherwise ordinary life, and I find it almost impossible to relate meaningfully to the gauche, naïve lad who spent three years studying history, archaeology and anthropology at one of the world’s great universities! For interest I wrote here about my somewhat uncomfortable relationship with my university past

    I’m interested in what you say about the male-dominated environment in which you studied. i saw it from the other side of the fence, of course, moving on from an all-male secondary school to an all-male Cambridge college. What a truly terrible preparation for life in the real world! Thankfully things are very different now, but I do wonder how different my social development (and that of my peer group too) would have been had the gender balance in university life been equivalent to that in the “real world”.

    I did, incidentally, spend a lot of time with medical students while at Cambridge. Great guys, some of them, but as for some of the others, if in later life I’d encountered them in their professional capacity I would have been somewhat concerned for my welfare (and also for their livers! Oh, the beer they could put away)

    Do forgive me whittling on, but your post has prompted all sorts of reflections. Please do share more more memories of your Oxford days on your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comments and I read your Cambridge blog post with interest – many parallels with my Oxford experience. Like you, I feel that I am now a completely different person from my younger self! I have been back to Oxford often (until Covid put a stop to flying in and out of New Zealand) and still feel at home there although the city – like me – has changed so much.

      Liked by 1 person

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