MB, ChB, PhD, FRACP, FRCPA
Dr Douglas Wilson, was originally a medical academic but always with a burning ambition to be a writer. What sort of writer was immaterial, just write stuff. But the genes were not in concert; they did not support his ambition.
I was born in Auckland New Zealand. After high school at King’s College in Auckland I trained in medicine in Dunedin, and then took on a role as junior medical officer in Auckland.
After further post-graduate training in medicine, blood and kidney diseases and research, I transferred to St Thomas Hospital Medical School in London, training in hematology and immunology, and experimenting with the interaction between drugs and the immune system, in collaboration with senior research institutions in the UK. After graduating with a PhD, I undertook two years intensive research in immunology and cancer at the distinguished Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, in Melbourne, Australia, before returning to New Zealand to join the Auckland Medical School. I became an associate professor with responsibility for some medical school teaching, and hospital and laboratory management in the field of immunology. During a sabbatical year in Oxford in 1981 I completed a textbook on the management of asthma and allergic diseases. It sold well.
In the mid-1980s I took a role as a visiting professor at the King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Here I experienced the novelties of teaching both male and female medical students, and with my wife Adele, who was helping guide postgraduate medicine in the Kingdom, we experienced the novelties of life in a conservative Muslim environment. The complexities, and the entertaining aspects of life, the Saudis, who were gracious hosts, together with the magic of the desert, enshrined a memorable three years.
On returning to New Zealand I decided that academic medicine has been a fine career, but I needed a different task and role. I was 50 years old, good age to begin a new career. I became Medical Director of a local division of an international pharmaceutical company, the German giant Boehringer Ingelheim. My background in areas of medical research, immunology, cancer, and asthma soon led to my intense involvement in the company’s international new drug development strategies. I transferred to their large US division, based in Connecticut, becoming Senior Vice President and Head of medical research, and of the complex regulatory activities needed to interact with the FDA. I had a staff of over 400. During this time I led teams that developed new drugs in the area of hypertension, HIV, chronic lung diseases, strokes, heart attacks, prostatic disease, and more, with 10 drugs reaching the US market during my tenure there.
I was promoted to be head of the Medical research and Regulatory Affairs functions for the company worldwide, based in Germany. During this period, I participated in the major strategic committees, as part of the company’s growth and drug development, chairing two of these most critical activities.
On my return to New Zealand I’ve consulted for a number of Biotech and pharmaceutical companies, in New Zealand, Australia, Italy, USA, and Ireland. These have involved the development of cancer drugs, new antibiotics, HIV vaccines, protection of decaying brain function, and projects to promote entry of drugs to the brain. I have also been involved in the rapidly developing field of digital health, with electronic monitors, and techniques to change patients’ drug adherence behavior, with profound clinical benefit.
For the past five years I have held the post of Chief Medical Officer for Ferghana Partners, a life science investment bank focusing on healthcare, based in New York and London. This experience continues to give me global exposure to the latest in medical advances. I am on the board of AFT Pharmaceuticals, a very innovative local pharmaceutical company marketing its own branded drugs and devices internationally. I have been the chairman of Adherium, the digital health company.
For the past few years I have converted a long-standing passion to become a writer into a second and parallel career. Previously, my lifelong dyslexia was a significant barrier to my converting a vivid imagination into publishable text. Computers and Spellcheck, and voice-activated text production, have opened the door to guide my imaginings to text conversion. To date I have now published 5 children’s books, including 4 around a character: Tom Hassler, the inheritor of the mantle of Sea People, the birds and mammals of the oceans. He can converse with them and fly when needed. Rats of Droolmoan Cave was the first. More to come.
The Aging book has been in gestation for 30 years, firstly from my deep interest in medical research, and then a fascination with the impact of diets on our lives, and the historic place of food. The text of a book on the true impacts for food and slimming, and the lessons from history and different societies, was written in mid to late 1980s. My wife Adele, as a very talented cook, and with her experiences of working with aristocratic, and highly public families in UK and Europe, whose interactions with the social world of food was complex, bewildering and entertaining, added materially to the insights and ideas here. The book was never finished, as the primary job was rather time-consuming with major international travel as a day by day activity. Before I left USA I had accumulated one million miles on 3 different airlines. However, the text and the experiences have been valuable for the current Aging book, and getting to grips with the nutritional jungle that has been part of our voyage through food and health over the recent decades, as we all grow older, but for longer. Older for Longer!
Other Useless Bits
Before graduating in medicine I had held a range of different holiday jobs. The first, from the age of 10, was packing metal washers by the gross, 144, in boxes. My father ran a large importing business, and these were one of their many products. The task required folding boxes, and weighing out the relevant number of washers using a small set of scales. Boring job but it paid well in coin. Enabled me to purchase comics to read. Not sure if I paid taxes.
Second job, also working for my father’s business, was an invoice clerk, filling in forms between sales, then to typists who sent out statements, and engaging with the packaging department. I was gently told off for running around seeking more work, to avoid any low flow boredom. Put the others on edge. Not for me long term was a firm conclusion, and medicine looked even better. Put a little swagger in the step.
Third job was working in an upmarket menswear store in Queen Street Auckland over the Christmas holidays after coming back from Dunedin during medical school. This job convinced me that a life in retail was not for me, as my impatience and need for action had to be secondary to the demands of stand, wait, smile, and wrap, as required for an effective on-floor salesman. The days of showing ties, one by one, to folk incapable of making any decision, were trauma indeed. But as an education: invaluable. Staff were wonderful characters and always called me Doc.
My final job over the summer vacations, was to become a male nurse at Auckland Hospital, an invaluable education for someone hoping to graduate in medicine. One learnt quickly of the highs and lows experienced by in-hospital patients, of the challenges for the hospital staff, and fortunately for me, with the help of some of the junior doctors, my early entry into medical procedures, such as taking blood, and setting up intravenous lines, and catheterization. All this experience was invaluable when I first came onto the wards as a final year medical trainee.
When I was 13 I developed severe asthma, and had three weeks in Auckland hospital, Princess Margaret Unit I think. Never sure why the stay was so long unless they were hunting for something very strange. I had just returned from a vacation with my parents for 3 weeks to Fiji. Now here was a totally different world, with the cool docs in their white coats, and glowing beautiful nurses with rustling uniforms, to balance the tough things that were required in a ward of sick kids. There were great X ray machines, and blowing things, and people listening to your chest and looking into your eyes with fancy lenses, and asking about your daily poos and stuff. Here was a possible career. Different and not boring. Those were the criteria.
My father, a great man, died 3 weeks before his 100 birthday. He had all his mental marbles, but suffered a fall that broke his shoulder, and that was a fast race to the end. My mother died aged 97, a puppy really. But both had colorful lives and were and education to me on the aging journey.