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Christopher Fletcher

Christopher FletcherProfessor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School, Director of Surgical Pathology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and Chief of Onco-Pathology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston

Interview location: His office at Brigham & Women's Hospital, Boston.
Interview date: 20th November 2007

Key Themes: Relationship with clinicans, Life, death and the hereafter, Mentors and Influences, MotivationAttributes of a pathologist

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Christopher Fletcher grew up in Yorkshire.  His father was a surgeon and his mother a social worker, and he wanted to be a doctor from as early as he can remember.  "But my father was not impressed when I went into pathology," he says.  "Being an old fashioned surgeon, he regarded the pathologist as one of the surgeon's handmaidens."We used to see astounding pathology that you would never ever have seen in central London.  It was very inspiringHowever, pathology was very well taught at St Thomas’ medical school in the late 1970s, and Fletcher came under the influence of some exceptional teachers.  They included Michael Hutt, who had set up one of the first medical schools in central Africa, in Uganda, and who continued to provide specialist pathology services for this and other hospitals in Africa by post.  "We used to see astounding pathology that you would never ever have seen in central London. It was very inspiring," says Fletcher.

Chance led him to specialise in soft tissue tumours, or 'sarcomas', which are among the most difficult cancers to diagnose and for which to predict the outcome.  In 1989 he set up the Soft Tissue Tumour Unit at St Thomas’ Hospital, a pioneering consultancy service in London which became embroiled in NHS politics, as the government introduced the idea of an 'internal market' where specialists had to charge each other for their services.  The new deal caused much antagonism, and in 1995 he left to take a chair of pathology at Harvard University in the US.  Renowned for his skills in diagnosing sarcomas, Fletcher continues to get "an endless stream of weird lumps" referred to him from all over the world.

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