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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

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E-interview with Professor Tom Dening

Tom Dening was appointed in October 2012 as Professor of Dementia Prof. Tom Dening
Research at the Institute of Mental Health, University of Nottingham; and Honorary Consultant in Old Age Psychiatry, Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. He studied Medicine at Newcastle University and trained in Psychiatry in Cambridge and Oxford. From 1991 to 2012, he was a Consultant Psychiatrist in Old Age Psychiatry in Cambridge. From 1999 to 2002 was seconded part-time to the Department of Health as a Senior Professional Adviser, including work on the National Service Framework for Older People. From 2002 to 2011, he was the Medical Director of the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust. His interests include the epidemiology of mental disorders in older people, treatment of dementia and depression in older people, psychiatric services, dementia and technology, care homes and other clinical topics. He is one of the editors of the Oxford Textbook of Old Age Psychiatry, the leading international work in this field. He has also published papers on neuropsychiatry, psychiatric symptoms and the history of psychiatry.

1. Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.

When I get the opportunity, about once a year, I work as a volunteer guide at Happisburgh Lighthouse in north Norfolk It is a brilliant and moving place and being at the top is wonderful. I’d recommend a visit to anyone.

2. What trait do you deplore in others?

I’m not sure that it is for me to judge anyone really but I certainly don’t find arrogance and intolerance to be attractive qualities. I am depressed by misogyny and bad behaviour towards women as there seems to be no end to it.

3. Tell us about either a film or a book that left an impression on you?

I read voraciously and books that have influenced me are too numerous to mention. Perhaps I’d single out Eugene Onegin (by Pushkin but also opera by Tchaikovsky). I came across this a few years ago at a critical point in my life. For me, it shows how you shouldn’t pass up opportunities at the time they present themselves because you won’t have them later on. There’s more to the poem than that but for me the message was that it’s important to have as few regrets at the end of your career about things you could/should have done but didn’t. If in doubt, go for it. It may be interesting and lead you somewhere you haven’t thought of.

4. When not being a psychiatrist, what do you enjoy?

Watching non-league football or televised Bundesliga games featuring Borussia Dortmund. In the summer, cricket at Trent Bridge.

5. Which people have influenced you the most?

Aside from my parents, the spark for my career was lit by Professor German Berrios in Cambridge. He is one of the great psychiatrists of his time and probably the biggest polymath I have personally known. He supervised my MD research and we had a great time. It was a great pleasure that he was my best man when I got married again.

6. If you were not a psychiatrist what other profession would you choose?

Goodness knows. I have been a psychiatrist for so long I can’t imagine much else. I think that being a bishop must be interesting. But perhaps I would do something different, like being a cheesemaker or piloting car ferries between the Orkney or Shetland Islands.
7. How would you like to be remembered? 

Fondly by those who loved me. Otherwise I am content with the notion that the sand will swiftly wash away my footsteps.

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