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Professor Van-Tam Speaks at Notts Uni

Pictured, Jonathan Van Tam, incumbent Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England
Lauren McGaun

As part of the University of Nottingham’s virtual series marking 50 years of Medicine and 30 years of Nursing, UoN were thrilled to welcome alumni and Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, to a workshop in conversation with Professor John Atherton, Pro-Vice Chancellor for the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. This was a hugely successful event for the university, with over 1,000 who registered to attend.

Given a complimentary welcome from the Vice-Chancellor Shearer West, it was noted that the medical scientist, now famously know as ‘JVT’, is due to be rewarded a lifetime achievement award by the university once graduation ceremonies resume in person, recognising his tireless commitment to medicine throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Throughout the evening, Van-Tam conveyed his down to earth persona, recognising his sense of imposter syndrome when first joining the university, not meeting the entry requirements for his medical course. “I felt like I was at the bottom of the pile,” he recalled.

To inspire those starting out in their medical careers, however, JVT emphasised the importance of finding out what you’re good at and taking the time to develop this area of interest. During his time at the university, he was inspired by mentors such as Professor Richard Madeley who taught him to constantly reinvent himself to keep his career alive.

[B]y the 16th January 2020, he was confident that COVID-19 was not a virus that could be contained in China

Van-Tam recognised that the profession certainly had not been without its challenges, however, not least in tackling the coronavirus pandemic which he described as a “once in a generation health shock”. “There were just no easy choices left on the table. There haven’t been for the past 14 months.” He commented. 

When asked if the COVID-19 health crisis could have been predicted, the Professor noted previous breakouts including SARS, and said that by the 16th January 2020, he was confident that Covid-19 was not a virus that could contained in China.

He also recognised that there were many logistical challenges when the government first encountered the virus. “We lacked the diagnostic capacity to deal with this rapidly spreading virus.”

As science has since progressed and many of these logistical challenges have gone, he described the progress as a “triumphant turnaround”.

Despite these successes, JVT has still faced much criticism over recent months, most notably on not pushing the government to pursue certain policies enough. “Advisors advise, ministers decide.” “Long may that continue,” he reiterated.

The Professor… constantly aims to be authentic and stay connected to his initial roots

Van Tam also praised the work of Civil Servants for their tireless effort in tackling the virus, calling them “an incredibly bright and committed bunch.”

The Professor was also asked if he takes any interest in his rising fame and he instantly refuted the idea, emphasising how he constantly aims to be authentic and stay connected to his initial roots.

For every briefing JVT is called to take part in, he is usually given a day’s notice and spends hours reading over briefing papers and consulting the relevant minister so he has a clear direction of what he will say, ensuring information is delivered to the public in a clear and concise manner.

Whilst the Professor is optimistic about the progress made by the vaccination roll out, like many others in the medical community, he remains cautious. “This story goes on for much longer and we might still have a challenging winter ahead of us.”

To conclude, Professor Brigitte Scammell, Head of the School of Medicine, thanked Professor Van Tam for his insightful contributions and noted the impressive development of the university’s medical department over the years.

The university now trains 450 students to be doctors every year and has three medical schools across the county, including one in Derby.

Lauren McGaun

Featured image courtesy of the University of Nottingham. 

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