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Interview with Dr Peter Mills

Dr Peter Mills was a consultant cardiologist at the Royal London Hospital and subsequently the London Chest Hospital, which both became part of Bart’s Health, for around 35 years from 1979. He also ran a private practice in Upper Wimpole Street, the Cromwell Hospital and the London Independent Hospital.

Dr Peter Mills was a consultant cardiologist at the Royal London Hospital and subsequently the London Chest Hospital, which both became part of Bart’s Health, for around 35 years from…

My father was a GP but I was always rather rebellious and so chose to read biochemistry at Oxford. I realised I was wrong and changed to medicine when it became apparent I was more interested in people than science.

In contrast to today’s young medics, who seem forced to decide at medical school which career path to follow in order to shape their CV, we had much more freedom to choose our specialty relatively later.

I believe cardiology chose me, rather than the other way around. An unexpected vacancy arose at St Georges Hospital at Hyde Park Corner where I was a locum and so I was invited to study Cardiology.

I was chairman of the Cardiology SAC for the Royal College of Physicians from 2002-2006 and became very involved in education. The first thing we did was to write a curriculum of training for cardiologists. We examined the breadth of what a cardiologist needs to know and what skills they should possess. None of this information was previously collated so that the trainee was aware of where they might have gaps in knowledge or expertise.

Gardening. The less I worked, the more time I had for the garden. The garden does not die if you do not tend it, but the more time you give it, the better it looks. I believe this is similar to training doctors. The more time you spend with them, the better they become.

I think my love for the garden is genetic. As a child I watched my grandfather in his garden and learnt the ropes. It’s about how you handle delicate seedlings, how you nurture the soil. It’s an apprenticeship and as in medicine, one can learn from others. You must also learn to work with nature. We lived in East Anglia where it might not rain for several weeks and had to adjust planting accordingly.

Gardening has always been my physical and mental relaxation from a challenging vocation. Now I have more time I’m enjoying it immensely. Even in winter there is plenty of jobs to do – it upsets me that the BBC switches off Monty Don in the colder months!

We have recently bought a property in Yorkshire to be nearer to our daughter, her husband and children The deal is that we will help with the school run now and they will help us as we get older!
Not only did my daughter inherit my medical interests but she also gained my competitive nature and interest in gardening. She wins several gardening competitions locally.

It took us over two years to find the new house. My wife was looking at the houses while I examined each garden but we are delighted with the outcome.

My wife is interested in the history of art and is a follower of Dr John McNeill, an Oxford specialist in Romanesque and medieval churches. I attend some lectures with her and accompany her on study tours, whether in England or abroad. I find it refreshing to learn something completely different from cardiology. I’ve also spent so long teaching that it is good to be on the receiving end. I might not always stay awake for the whole lecture but I do enjoy learning!

It is about training your mind to look at buildings and architecture and to learn about the styles which were linked to the local historic pressures at the time. For example, if you look at Canterbury Cathedral, it is made from stone from Caen in France. It is incredible to think of how that stone was transported across the Channel in the 12th century. There was no health and safety policy in place then.

We recently visiting Lucca in Italy which has some great examples of medieval architecture and next year we will travel to Northern Spain. We have a specialist art fund set aside for travel which I’m happy to say is entirely funded by the returns from my Cavendish investments!

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