Laureation address: Mr David Nott OBE

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Medicine
Laureation by Professor David Crossman 

Friday 23 June 2017

Chancellor, it is my privilege to present for the degree of Doctor of Medicine, honoris causa, Mr David Nott.

Oh my goodness me... Well, well, well...well, well, well, ..Hello!, gosh, gosh,.. she looks beautiful, you look beautiful, absolutely beautiful.....”

Five-month-old baby Maram’s parents were killed in the blast, in Syria. After the blast had gone, Maram had shrapnel in her hip and other wounds. She was to die, for purpose unknown, but for an operation. A man dressed in green hunched over a tiny person says “3/0 vicryl” (that’s a suture). This is all we have by way of film archive of what saved that baby’s life. That doctor was David Nott and the exclamation of surprise and delight in my introduction were his words when he met her again at the age of 18 months, now in Turkey.

Those words, so softly spoken, evoked grasp and command of the situation in equal measure, because of the simple authenticity of a human who cares for others by uniquely performing the job of the doctor he has chosen to be – that of looking after the vulnerable, the helpless and the defenseless, for whom the encounter with the doctor is truly the last port of call in their most terrifying of storms.

David Nott graduated with a BSc in Medicine from this University in 1979. He completed his undergraduate medical education at the University of Manchester. He trained as a surgeon and took up his first consultant post in 1992, at that stage concentrating on vascular surgery. For 24 years he has taken unpaid leave to work in war zones and disaster relief areas. When asked in a radio interview how many countries he had worked in he named 17, and then he said “I think there are a couple more”.

Being a professional medical person brings the need for distance between the sadness and tragedy, and the job that needs to be done. Any clinical doctor knows, however, that there are some cases, that “get through”. This is necessary, if they didn’t the practices and half-baked logic that stem from no longer caring would, at best, lead to simple unkindness and, at worst, to the cruelty documented by Robert Francis in the Mid Staffordshire report.

David Nott undertakes work in the most highly charged and emotional extremes of medicine. When asked by Eddie Mair on the PM programme, “How well do you sleep?” he said, “Not well at the moment.” When asked how does he copes when he gets back he said, “When I come back I have things flying around in my head... it takes time.” Humanitarianism comes at a cost – for anyone involved and those super-involved it comes at super-cost. Many, many are grateful to you David – that you were prepared to pay that cost. We all thank you on their behalf and we salute you. You are a shining example to today’s graduates.

Chancellor, in recognition of his major contribution to humanitarian medicine and surgery I invite you to confer the degree of Doctor of Medicine, honoris causa, on Mr David Nott.

Professor David Crossman
Dean of Medicine

Response from Dr David Nott OBE

Ladies and gentlemen.

I thank you very much for giving me such a great award and honorary doctorate. It’s very special for me to come back here to St Andrews today where it all started. I have very fond memories of St Andrews and my time here, which as well as studying hard – a little bit – I had the opportunity to develop some of the skills I needed. In fact, I was president of the Bute Medical Society, which allowed me to develop some of my leadership skills, which weren’t brilliant at the time to be honest. And I had the opportunity to be involved in lots and lots of charities.

I didn’t know at the time, but my medical degree would turn out to be an incredible passport to a life of adventure and fulfilment. Being a doctor is something that is required everywhere in the world. There is no city, town or village that does not need a doctor.

As my confidence grew as a surgeon, I realised that by going to all these very dangerous places I was able to offer surgical help and support, and not only that, but give people the hope that there were people out there that were willing to come and help you. And not only that, the doctors that were there, the local doctors, I was able to train them and pass on my surgical skills to them so that when I left, they would have a legacy of being able to continue to operate. And there’s no doubt that I’ve had so many messages from all over the world from people to say that giving this surgical help and allowing people to be able to operate saves thousands and thousands of lives. And it’s a great honour to have the University of St Andrews acknowledge that with me today, and I’m really grateful.

So if we come back full circle, and if I was sitting with the BSc students who got their BSc’s today – and I wish I was sitting again, because I’d like to do the whole thing again – I hope that you will feel confident and happy and optimistic about your future, because today your future started at St Andrews. Believe me, for many of you, your fellow graduands sitting with you today next to you will become your lifelong friends. And I’ve got friends sitting in the audience today who have been my lifelong friends, and it’s been an absolute joy and wonder to have started at St Andrews and to be here again to say thank you very much. And I’m so grateful for you giving me this wonderful doctorate, thank you very much indeed.

Dr David Nott OBE
Honorary Degree of Doctor of Medicine