Glasgow geriatrician Jackie Taylor awarded honorary degree

“There is a perception that to be successful in medicine you have to come from a dynasty of doctors,” says Professor Jackie Taylor, reflecting on almost four decades as one of Scotland’s leading geriatricians.

The Hamilton-born medic did not fit that criteria and was the first in her family to go to university.

Now retired, she hopes to encourage more young people from become doctors with a new mentoring role at Glasgow Caledonian University, where she was last week awarded an honorary degree for her ‘outstanding contribution’ to medicine.

Prof Taylor finished her last ward rounds at Glasgow Royal Infirmary in June, after 38 years in acute care and while she isn’t missing the weekend rota calls, she isn’t quite ready to leave her patients behind yet.

She hopes to continue some outpatient work alongside her other busy role as President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons Glasgow (RCPSG).

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A graduate of the University of Glasgow, where is an honorary professor, the 60-year-old mother-of-two says she realised fairly quickly that she wanted to specialise in elderly medicine.

She said: “It was the first job I did after my initial registration and I absolutely loved it.

“Geriatric medicine is a very popular specialism. There are a number of things that are really appealing.

“It’s the last of the very general specialties – areas like cardiology or respiratory medicine are very specialised.

“Geriatric medicine still requires very good generalist skills and it has a very holistic approach to the patient.

“One has to take into account not just their medical problems but their social setting, their family, their cognition.”

With more people living longer, Prof Taylor says the biggest change in geriatric medicine has been the increase in elderly patients being treated in hospital, with a complex range of conditions.

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“It’s very much front door medicine. The demand is greater, there are more patients with co-morbidities,” she says. 

“I think that’s been the biggest change. One of the reasons we are spread very thin, is that there is still a need for us to see patients in the community.

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“In the acute side, what we are very aware of working in the east end is seeing premature ageing. People who are chronologically not very old but biologically old and that’s where the social determinants come in.

“Working in the east end we see the impact of inequalities day in day out. But of course we also see the traditional frail elderly population as well.”

In 2015 the British Medical Association highlighted that although there was increasing diversity in gender, ethnicity and age in medicine, there continued to be minimal improvement in social diversity. ]

A year later the Social Mobility Commission found that only 4 per cent of doctors came from working class backgrounds, behind other groups considered to be ones of privilege, such as lawyers and journalists at 6 and 11 per cent respectively.

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“I think it’s often felt that in order to be successful in medicine you have to come from a dynasty of doctors.

“I am not someone who has come from a family of doctors. I came from a background where no-one in my family had been to university. 

“It is all about having the opportunities and the desire and the support,” says Prof Taylor.

“I think there are some really good programmes now and the University of Glasgow has had a lot of success in this area in widening participation,” says Prof Taylor.

Prof Taylor said she was “thrilled” to receive a Doctor of Science (DSc) from GCU last week for her outstanding contribution to Geriatric Medicine.

She said: “Principal Professor Pamela Gillies in an Honorary Fellow of our College and I can now understand how she probably felt when she was getting her award a number years ago.

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“What really chimes with me is the ethos of GCU that opportunities are for everyone and everyone has got the potential no matter what their background really resonates with me.

“I would love to be involved in some kind of mentoring or coaching at the university.”

She said Covid had no bearing on her decision to retire, because she had planned to bow out before the pandemic, but decided to stay on another year to do her bit.

Speaking fondly about her patients, Prof Taylor added: “I will certainly miss my patients from the East End of Glasgow who are like no other patients. I have met some great characters over the years and I will miss their humour in particular. 

“They have a real quirky sense of humour and are able to make light of difficult situations. It’s a huge privilege that they placed such incredible trust on me to do the right thing.”

Prof Taylor said her future challenges as President of the RCPSG is to focus on the wellbeing of healthcare staff struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder after Covid.

“We are at the start of a long journey and one of the big things for healthcare in the next few years is how we mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on healthcare inequalities and look after the wellbeing of the staff.”

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992