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Tom Templeton: ‘I suspect doctors have realised how theraputic it can be to write books’ | Autobiography and memoir

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How has life changed for you at the surgery during the pandemic?
The biggest change has been having to talk to patients on the phone rather than seeing them in person. We only see around three per day now in person.

Do you miss seeing people face to face?
Totally. It’s quite right that we do it the way we do but I love being with the patients and having that connection.

What other challenges have you faced?
We’re having to deal with a lot of patients who really need help at a hospital but can’t get it because of the virus. That’s been difficult to see. And of course we’ve had a big increase in patients dying – people we know well. We saw an uptick last spring and we’re starting to see it again now.

How did it feel dispensing the first doses of the vaccine at the surgery?
There was a real carnival atmosphere, which is a strange thing to feel in a GP surgery on a bleak Sunday morning. The mood felt very positive. Staff received it at the same time as the first group of 80-pluses and I was the youngest person in my queue by about 40 years. I felt a bit of a fraud.

Tom Templeton during his time working as a staff writer at the Observer Magazine. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

Why did you decide to become a GP rather than a hospital doctor?
Partly for practical purposes – I was older and had children and was keen to qualify relatively quickly and to be able to spend as much time with my family as possible. But I also liked the fact that as a GP you get to see the same patients time and again and get to know them really well. And you get to do a bit of everything: you’re dealing with all parts of the body and mental health as well.

The 34 patients in your book range from a baby to a 103-year-old woman. Why did you decide to write about them?
When I first became a doctor, I used to tell friends and family cloaked versions of my patients’ stories because I was repeatedly amazed at what people were able to endure. I realised they found it helpful. Everyone’s been through difficult times, but we often feel quite isolated and alone with that and we don’t need to. I think the more we can hear about it and open up about it, the better for all of us.

How do you account for so many doctors and medics writing books about their lives and work at the moment?
I think people have always been interested in doctors’ insights. Mikhail Bulgakov wrote A Country Doctor’s Notebook 100 years ago. And there have been various other medic writers over the centuries, including Chekhov, who have a perspective that has always been welcomed by readers of all kinds. But in recent years I suspect doctors have realised how therapeutic it can be to write books. If you look at someone like David Nott [author of War Doctor] and the appalling things he was at the centre of, I am sure for him and others like him writing is partly a way of healing. It certainly was for me.

34 Patients by Tom Templeton will be published by Michael Joseph on 27 May (£20). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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