Phillip Bennett is Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Honorary Consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology to Imperial Healthcare NHS Trust at Queen Charlotte’s and Hammersmith Hospitals
What time do you get up?
This is quite complicated! This morning I got up at 6.20 am because I had to be at the Institute at 7.30 am for a monthly consultants’ meeting. I will confess, I don’t always get to the meeting and it depends on what I’ve been doing or if I’ve been away at a conference.
In a normal week, there are two mornings when I have a relatively early start at 8.00 am. On Wednesday, when we have a ward round and a MDT (Multi-disciplinary Team Meeting) and on a Friday when I’m operating in theatre, I tend to get up at 6.45 am. On the other days, I’ll start later at 8.30 or 9.00 am, so I get up later.
How do you start your day?
On most days, I start by letting the dog into the garden. I have a two year old Labrador called Manook. I make a coffee and porridge for myself, usually feed the dog, shower and then come to work.
What made you choose your career?
When I was at school, my original plan was to become a lawyer, but when I chose my A Levels (Maths, Physics and Chemistry) my teachers told me I chose the wrong subjects as they were more scientific. There is no one else in my family who is medical, but it seemed a logical and safe career. I guess, I could say I was lucky enough to get a place at St George’s Medical School for the very first year of a modernised training curriculum.
In terms of choosing Obstetrics and Gynaecology as a speciality, there are three reasons.
It was the attachment I most enjoyed as a medical student because I liked the practical aspects of it and the fact that patients in maternity and obstetrics are happy to see you. You also get very rapid job satisfaction because as problems arise, you have to solve them and the cycle is quicker. So as patients get ill and better quickly, that’s good!
When I qualified as a doctor in 1982, Obstetrics and Gynaecology was a speciality that was rapidly evolving from a craft based which you might say almost apprenticeship speciality into a sspeciality with a lot of evidence based practice. I think I saw it as a career where I could do interesting science research. So it fitted in very well to form a career which combined the interest and excitement of clinical work and academic research with lots of exciting research going on.
What do you find most rewarding about your job?
There are three areas which I find very rewarding. I very much enjoy looking after patients during pregnancy and particularly those who had problems previously and achieve a good outcome the next time round. As I said before, the great advantage of my work is that it’s for a relatively short time, so you can make a big difference very quickly.
The other thing I find very rewarding is when the research is going well and we are making interesting findings. Research is inevitably cyclical. Sometimes things go well and sometime they don’t. Often it can be a struggle to find the funding for research. However, when a research idea bears fruit as it were, then that is very rewarding.
Over the years, many young scientists and doctors have joined our research groups to develop their academic ideas. It is so rewarding to see so many ‘group up’ so to speak and achieve so much success with our help.
Describe your typical day?
There is no typical day. Often there is a mixture of activities. I might have a research meeting, then I go to see some patients and do some clinical work; then perhaps go to some administrative committee meeting; then have individual meetings with research team, all in one day.
I do a have day a week as a labour ward consultant at the coalface in obstetrics and I do an obstetrics clinic and gynaecology clinic and have an operating list every week. I run a series of special clinics for those at risk of preterm birth.
I don’t go to many conferences and I worked out over the years that it better to go to fewer, high quality ones. However, we do have several commercial collaborations which is good for universities, so I travel abroad to meet with our commercial partners.
What car do you drive?
I generally drive to work by motor-bike on my BMW RT1200, the same type as the Metropolitan Police use. It’s reliable and I use the bike as it’s more convenient. My role as Director of the Institute of Reproductive Development for Imperial College London and Director of Research for Women’s and Children’s Services for the NHS, mean that I have to make several journeys several times a week between St Mary’s Paddington, Charing Cross and Queen Charlotte’s hospitals.
What is your favourite food and what food do you most dislike?
I like a variety of food. I don’t like many vegetables and broccoli and Brussels sprouts would be the worst for me to eat. I like British and French and am partial to Japanese food. I am particularly fond of my mother’s and girlfriend’s cooking which is quite different. My mother cooks traditional British food and I try to see my parents every Thursday at their home in Kent. My girlfriend cooks quite eclectic food but never tells me what it is – probably because she slips in some vegetables.
What do you do in your spare time?
I’m a keen sailor and I like to go sailing around 9 months of the year. I have a boat that I keep in Gosport and generally sail during my annual holidays and my favourite destination is West Brittany and also sail in Holland and the West Country.
My hobby is collecting marine chronometers and which is the most accurate navigational instrument used on ships to determine longitude. I have eight at the moment.
Who would you like to have dinner with? (Doesn’t have to be alive)
I’m very keen on history and all my books are about history. If I had a time-machine, I would like to go back in time rather than forward and have dinner with some historically important characters. I would like to understand their personalities and the obvious person has to be Sir Winston Churchill. He was a maverick character who made an impact on the world.
I would also like to have dinner with Henry VIII who comes across as a Stalinist character but who also had an enormous effect on Britain, even though much of what he achieved was for selfish reasons.
Finally, I think and possibly controversially, I would like to have dinner with Jesus. He certainly had an effect and I would like to learn more and draw my own conclusions.
Phillip Robert Bennett Bsc 1979 MB BS 1982 MRCOG 1988 MD 1988 Phd 1993 FRCOG 2000
Professor Bennett is one of the country’s leading academics in obstetrics. He was promoted to professor at a young age and has held the position with distinction. Having achieved an MD, followed by a PhD for which he trained in molecular biology, he was well equipped to run a research programme which he is currently doing. It is focussed on the cell and molecular mechanisms of labour and in particular those leading to prostaglandin production.
His papers are regularly published in a number of journals. He is an excellent lecturer and has a national an international reputation based on his scientific research. He is making discoveries into one of the major causes of in of infant death and long term handicap: namely premature birth. Infection and inflammation are important causes of premature birth and cerebral palsy. Specific cells and proteins are being examined that are thought to trigger this process. Ways to switch off this process and thereby reduce the risk of preterm delivery are already working in mouse models.
Professor Bennett’s commitment to the health service is considerable as he also runs an obstetric service both at Hammersmith Hospital and Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in London.