Twelve Questions

Sarah Daniell poses 12 questions to well-known faces

Twelve Questions with Dawn Harper

Dawn Harper presents Embarrassing Bodies, the TV show in which patients willingly present unmentionable ailments to the world. Dr Harper is a GP based in Gloucestershire. She works at an NHS surgery and also runs private clinics focusing on women's health.

Dawn Harper says the TV show has made her more empathetic. Photo / Supplied
Dawn Harper says the TV show has made her more empathetic. Photo / Supplied

1. Why "Embarrassing Bodies"? Doesn't the title sort of play on their humiliation? Why not, Unusual, Or What?

Because they're not unusual. The conditions that we see on the show are the same as the conditions GPs see up and down the country every day of the week. It's just that we have television cameras in our consulting rooms. I am glad it is called Embarrassing Bodies - the whole point is there is no need to be embarrassed. I see my own patients from time to time who make an appointment after seeing the show to discuss a problem that often they have had for years but have been too embarrassed to talk about. I am really grateful to all the people who are brave enough to come on the show - they help a lot of others to pluck up the courage to ask for help.

2. Have you ever been on the other side of the medical divide?

Yes, several times. The worst was when my youngest son, who has cerebral palsy, was involved in a head-on car crash where he had to be cut from the wreckage.

I took a call from a police officer while I was in evening surgery and went from professional GP to demented hysterical mother in a nano second. Thankfully he's made a full recovery.

3. How has this experience informed the way you treat people on your show?

It's made me more empathetic. But perhaps I can answer this slightly differently. Working in the NHS, I have just 10 minutes with each patient which means we have to concentrate on the physical complaint and move on. I spend nearer two hours with each Embarrassing Bodies patient and that gives us the opportunity to talk in more depth about how a condition affects an individual's day-to-day life. The show has made me realise just how much embarrassment can hamper someone coming to ask for help.

4. Why did you fall in love with medicine?

When I was 12 I was rushed into hospital late at night with appendicitis. I spent a few days there recovering from the operation and came out determined to be a doctor. At the time my school was convinced I was a natural linguist and tried hard to persuade me against following a career in medicine. I had lunch with my old German teacher recently and we laughed that in many ways perhaps they were right. I now spend more of my working week talking and writing about medicine than I do actually practising it but I am very lucky - I love both parts of my working week.

5. What word from medical science, is the most beautiful, and why?

Cure. No explanation needed.

6. If there were one thing you could cure, what would it be?

Disability.

7. What alternative therapies would you use and might recommend?

Lots. We have some excellent alternative practitioners and I've always been very open-minded about working alongside them.

8. What is the most triumphant result for someone with an "embarrassing" medical issue?

For me, the most striking thing is that often people present with a physical problem but when it's treated, the change in their emotional wellbeing is the most dramatic. You'd be amazed how often people have changed their hair or their style of clothing when they come back to clinic following treatment. It is really lovely to see.

9. When do you feel hopeless?

When I have to give a patient or their relatives a terminal diagnosis. It is the hardest thing in the world to do.

10. If you could live in another time as a doctor, when would that be and why?

I would love to have been a GP when the NHS first started. How wonderful to be able to offer free medical care to anyone who needed it for the first time. It isn't perfect but I am immensely proud of our NHS.

11. What is the most important quality a doctor - wherever on the spectrum - must have?

The ability to communicate. I really don't think you can practice medicine properly without it.

12. What makes your heart sing?

Kindness.

- NZ Herald

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