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Professor Shirley Hodgson

Centenary Souvenir


Professor of Cancer Genetics, London Professor Shirley Hodgson began her career as a paediatrician and also spent a year in Iran working as a registrar. Upon her return to the UK, she continued her paediatric training but changed her career choice and entered general practice while her children were young. Shirley initially graduated with a BSc in Physiology from University College London in 1966, a subject she was familiar with as the granddaughter of a well-respected Professor of Physiology.

She then qualified as a doctor from Somerville College, Oxford in 1969. A year later she obtained a Diploma from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and two years later a Diploma in Child Health. When Shirley came to the end of one of her GP jobs and was looking for the next opportunity, her husband spotted an advertisement for a locum clinical genetics post at Guy’s Hospital, which she applied for with success. She started the post and immediately found the work fascinating. After further paediatric posts and membership exams, Shirley returned to Guy’s Hospital for a substantive Registrar post in Clinical Genetics. At the same time, she worked with Professor Victor Dubowitz at the Hammersmith Hospital on Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy for her DM. She was appointed a Consultant in Clinical Genetics at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in 1988 and Consultant/ Reader in Clinical Genetics at Guy’s Hospital in 1990. Shirley specialised in cancer genetics from 1989 working with the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (now Cancer Research UK), developing regional cancer genetics services at Guy’s, St. Mark’s and St. George’s Hospitals. This included running multidisciplinary clinics for complex genetics conditions such as Von Hippel-Lindau disease and for carriers of genetic variants conferring high risks of breast and ovarian cancer. In 2003, Shirley was appointed Professor of Cancer Genetics at St. George’s, University of London, now Emeritus, and is a part-

time Consultant in Leicester. She describes her move into cancer genetics as her best career decision and one which was inspired by Lionel Penrose, her father, who was an original thinker and who made many novel observations in the field of genetics. He also felt strongly about the wider implications of his work, being vehemently opposed to the Eugenics movement, and set up the Medical Association for the Prevention of War. He taught Shirley never to believe existing dogma without questioning it. She was also inspired by Polani who left Italy after rejecting fascism, learnt English, and worked hard to make ends meet before finally specialising in genetics. Shirley admired his dedication and sheer hard work. Shirley was an external Examiner to King’s College Undergraduate School of Medicine and has successfully established and run a BSc module in cancer genetics at St. George’s since 2008. She is also external Examiner for the Genomics MSc in Birmingham and has supervised and been an Examiner for a number of MD and PhD theses. She is most proud of raising awareness of cancer genetics by writing her book A Practical Guide to Human Cancer Genetics, which is now in its fourth edition. When Shirley started in her specialty there was little appreciation of inherited factors in cancer susceptibility, whereas now about 50% of referrals to clinical genetics departments are for cancer genetics. With over 300 peer-reviewed publications in clinical and scientific journals and many published books, it is no surprise that Shirley spends a lot of her time delivering lectures at home and abroad. She has advised and developed many courses including a genetic counselling course in collaboration with Indian and Chinese colleagues, a cancer genetics course in Italy and has helped to set up and deliver the clinical paediatric curriculum at the New Medical School of Namibia and has made frequent visits there over the past six years. Shirley admits that her biggest mistake was giving the usual dose of an opiate to a man with reduced lung capacity as a house surgeon, which nearly killed him. “I learned that you need to tailor any treatment to the specific needs of the individual,” she says. * Favourite Film: Battle of Algiers by Gillo Pontecorvo * Three objects Shirley cannot live without: Brompton bicycle, Camera, iPad

Shirley’s advice to junior doctors is “Find an area of medicine that you can become passionate about, and enjoy the special privilege of being in a position to enjoy your career and use your abilities to help others.”


Medical Woman – Magazine Centenary Issue, April 2017  

The magazine for the Medical Women’s Federation (MWF), the largest and most influential body of women doctors in the UK which aims to promot...

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