Among the second cohort of students to complete his medical degree at Southampton, Michael later went on to become Head of the School of Medicine from 1998 to 2001, and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences from 2003 to 2004. He is now President and Provost of University College London (UCL).
“I very positively chose to come to Southampton as it was a new medical school and I thought it would attract very good teachers. It was a wonderful, fresh, exhilarating and exciting innovation that brought people to Southampton with different ideas about how to educate students and we all benefitted hugely from their quality and enthusiasm,” he says.
For me what was really interesting and different about Southampton was the early medical contact we had with patients from year one. This brought the whole thing alive for me, putting the rest of my learning into perspective by seeing it in action in real-life healthcare. The fourth-year research project was also a hugely important part of my personal development. It developed my critical thinking and allowed me to ask questions and understand how knowledge was created, how uncertain that knowledge-creation process could be, and how knowledge changes over time.
“I was lucky to be able to carry out my project with Professor George Alberti, who was Professor of Chemical Biology at Southampton at the time, and went on to become Professor and Dean of Medicine at Newcastle University and President of the Royal College of Physicians. I really did feel as though I was a member of the research team, and this link between teaching and research is a principle I have held very close throughout my career – the relationship between teaching and research sits at the heart of UCL’s strategy and that’s all because of my experience at Southampton.
“You also got a lot of real-life experience at Southampton. During my final year, I went on placements at various hospitals in the region, which prepared you for actually working in healthcare in the real world. We were no longer in an ivory tower in a big teaching hospital, being heavily supported by staff, but were faced with the real world of a district general hospital. It doesn’t get more real than being in an accident and emergency department or an acute medical unit.”
Following his postgraduate studies, also at Southampton, Michael joined the University’s academic team, progressing to the role of Professor of Medicine, Head of School and then Dean.
“This was a time of great change, a fresh group of young, dynamic professors were coming in and the research profile of the Medical School was accelerating. We started to do very well competitively against other medical schools for our research. Our Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) results were very pleasing, we scored full points in the Quality Assurance Agency Subject Review, and we also started winning big grants such as the Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility.
“When you looked at teaching and research performance, we were one of only three medical schools in the country that was recognised for its excellence in both teaching and research. As one of the smaller medical schools, we were competing very effectively with the best in the country.
“One of the reasons for this was our links with the NHS, particularly the trusts within our region. It was a mutually beneficial relationship that worked incredibly well and brought the overall standard of clinical care up. Patients were given access to the most advanced treatments that were linked to the research in the University.
Looking back, my over-riding memory of Southampton is of the spirit of the time and the culture of the Medical School. It was enjoyably positive and it was very, very different to many other places in the country. We created a great team spirit and sense of achievement, and I’m thrilled that this culture and ethos continues at Southampton today.
Find out about Southampton Medical School and the cutting-edge research our academics have led into a wide range of areas, including asthma, osteoporosis, antibiotic resistance, developmental origins of adult disease, liver disease and diabetes. The nation’s first Centre for Cancer Immunology opened earlier this year thanks to the generosity of thousands of donors, bringing together world-leading researchers to expand clinical trials and develop more lifesaving drugs in this exciting and promising area of cancer research.