Profile: Dr Leonard Sherski — The Best Medicine in the Village

Photo by Yee-Liu Williams

Dr Leornard Sherski, a spritely 78 year old, was the present-day Dr Finlay of New Malden. Voted as Kingston’s Best Doctor in 2007, he is debonair, a pillar of the community with a mischievous twinkle in the eye. Loved by all, he has a natural talent for putting patients at total ease where he says he’s been at the Groves for so long “a lot of my patients have just got old with me”.

Dr Leornard Sherski, recently retired, looks back on his life and and career.

Did you always want to be a doctor?

As a boy I did have a fleeting idea I wanted to be a vet. I used to spend a lot of time with my uncle, Leonard Abrahamson. He was a professor of medicine in Dublin and he bought the first ECG machine in Ireland. So I come from a medical family and it’s very much in the blood. I was inspired by him and it seemed only natural that I became a doctor.

Where did you train and have you specialised?

I was born and educated in Northern Ireland. I qualified in medicine from Queen’s University, Belfast. I decided to focus on general practice (GP) as this was more challenging with a broader spectrum on family medicine. My specialisation or focus today is heart and hypertension conditions. I see myself more as a geriatrician than a paediatrician these days.

What was it like living in Northern Ireland?

It was very difficult as I worked in a mixed practice close to the Shankill and Falls area with a lot of night duty. I suppose I ‘just adapted’ although I was concerned as I had a very young family. I didn’t live in fear so much but I do remember one particular incident that made me think we needed to leave. I was called out one night to an emergency and had to walk through the barricades with masked men armed with guns. I heard a voice say ‘that’s Dr Sherski let him through’. I knew I didn’t want to be a part of this — they knew who I was but I didn’t know who they were.

What is your most memorable and happiest event?

Apart from the day I got married, it was the day I accepted the job as a partner at the Groves and we all moved to New Malden in 1974. I answered an advert in the back of the British Medical Journal and the rest is history.

Have you seen many changes in New Malden?

There certainly has been a ‘population change’ and the face of New Malden seems to have been damaged by Kingston’s more popular shopping centre. I think it’s a great shame there aren’t more ‘character’ local shops. Our favourite shop was Canning’s, toy and book shop — just opposite the post office. My children would spend hours in there. Perhaps that’s why my daughter is now a director of a toy company!

What is your view of family medicine today?

Family medicine today is disappearing. In a busy practice like the Groves we have teams of rotating doctors and nurses and it’s difficult to get to know each patient as well. In so many ways doctors are becoming deskilled because of ‘fragmentation’ and bureaucracy. Also, education is very different where there is less emphasis on ‘people skills’ and more on the academic qualifications of medical staff. Perhaps the training is more superior in some ways but the ‘holistic approach’ to medicine is not well taught and the transition away from the traditional values of family medicine is unfortunately inevitable.

Are you restricted by the amount of time you have with your patients?

‘Time is money’ is a big issue. It used to be that funding was based on the number of doctors in the practice and the volume of registered patients. Because I have ‘grown old’ with most of my patients ‘I know their background’; where I see it necessary I ensure they book a double appointment so we have ‘time to talk’ and I can treat them without rushing. I believe it’s important to give them the time they need.

Do you find it difficult making decisions over expensive prescriptions?

I have to be mindful of the guidelines by NICE and the budget constraints within the Practice. Funding is challenging as there is not an exhaustible supply of money. We do use the more ‘generic drugs’ as a rule but some health conditions mandate the use of the more ‘branded’ drugs that can be expensive. I always attempt to base my decision on bioavailability and practicalities — again this can be expensive. However, I have no qualms in writing prescriptions for what I see as best for the patient.

Looking back would you do anything differently?

If I had to start over again I would still want to do medicine. Back in 1963, the year of the big freeze, I was a doctor and assistant surgeon on a ship. I did two big trips that took assisted passengers for £10 to Australia. I enjoyed travelling around the world and I did get the bug for travel.

So at 78, do you have any unfulfilled ambitions and what are your plans for retirement?

I have a passion for antiques and hope to travel more. We go once a year to visit my wife’s family in Greece. We also have plans to visit St Petersburg this year and to enjoy more city breaks in Europe. My wife and I just love supporting local theatre –Richmond Theatre and the Rose. It’s likely my retirement will be spent with my grandchildren and doing more babysitting — I am expecting my third grandchild at the end of May!

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