My schooldays: Professor Anthony Busuttil

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WHAT school did you go to?

I come from Malta where I went St Aloysius’ College, a private school run by Jesuits, as a day boy from preparatory school right up to secondary school.

Did you like it?

Yes, school was all right. Obviously there were certain subjects I liked better than others, but on the whole I had no problem with school.

Did you get into trouble?

No. Knowing that my parents were doing their best to pay money to educate me, you thought twice about getting yourself into trouble. I tried to keep my nose clean as much as I possibly could. When the whole class got involved, I got involved, but there was nothing specific relating to me per se.

Did you have a favourite teacher?

My science and maths teachers were very good. My languages teachers were not as good. They tended to be more interested in grammar rather than the use of language and the literature of the language. My maths teacher for the last three years of school was an excellent teacher. In those days maths was broken down into arithmetic, algebra and geometry. He was good at all three. He introduced a practical approach to maths, looking at things like cricket innings and stocks and shares. He made it more interesting. I also had an excellent English teacher in my final year. We had to do Macbeth. He could put it to boys who weren’t really keen on literature in an excellent way and made us really feel this was something worth going into. He did it mainly by looking behind the words that were written - looking at what Shakespeare had in mind, the different nuances of meaning and so on and so forth, putting it in the context of the time. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

What did you want to be?

In those days there was not a course every year at university. If you wanted to be a doctor or lawyer there was only a course every third year. We had to work very very hard as youngsters to make sure we got into the right year, otherwise we had to wait another two years. One of the things that interested me in those days was journalism, but there were no direct courses and no career structure for journalism in my country. You either approached it through law, science or teaching. People tended to choose standard professions - they became solicitors, doctors, pharmacists. You chose a profession you could earn a living in and branch out of and perhaps go abroad with. That’s why I chose medicine. I was 14 when I made that decision. Looking at the pros and cons, it looked like a good bet in terms of using science, having a profession that was recognised and held in high esteem and also enabled you to go to foreign countries.

College or university?

I went to the Royal University of Malta, a very ancient university. I worked hard to get there at the right time and qualified at 21. I went to junior university from age 14 to 16 where I did philosophy and the sciences. Then I went into proper pre-clinical work at 16 and ended up as a doctor at 21. It is early now but was not so unusual then. Six of us were the same age when we joined medicine.

What do you wish you had learned but didn’t?

We tended to study English history which was of some relevance but not 100 per cent relevant to our country. Why did we not study Maltese history? Maltese language was not taught in private schools either. Everything was taught in English. There was no taking what was good about the civilisation, language and literature of your country. It was more about looking at other countries, particularly Britain. Growing up not being able to write your own language properly, not being familiar with the literature, is not appropriate.

Other things we were not taught were music and art. I very much would have loved to learn a musical instrument or to read music.

What is the most important lesson you have learned outside formal education?

Obviously, in the medical profession you’re dealing with people who are bereaved. You learn how to deal with people at a time when they are at their most vulnerable, most down, most depressed, trying to help by answering questions, being kind.

Pathologist Professor Anthony Busuttil is regius professor of forensic medicine at Edinburgh University and a forensic medical examiner to Lothian and Borders Police. He has worked on several large investigations including the Dunblane massacre and the Lockerbie air crash.