An interview with Roger Kirby, MA, MD, FRCS (Urol), FEBU
Version of Record online: 28 SEP 2012
© 2012 THE AUTHOR. BJU INTERNATIONAL © 2012 BJU INTERNATIONAL
Volume 110, Issue 8, pages 1095–1096, October 2012
How to Cite
(2012), An interview with Roger Kirby, MA, MD, FRCS (Urol), FEBU. BJU International, 110: 1095–1096. doi: 10.1111/j.1464-410X.2012.11575.x
- Issue online: 28 SEP 2012
- Version of Record online: 28 SEP 2012
‘Face to Face’ is a monthly interview series with personalities in the urology field. As a successor to BJUI's ‘Conversations’ feature, ‘Face to Face’ is fashioned after the highly acclaimed BBC television series of the same name where former British politician John Freeman interviewed famous men and women with an insightful and probing style.
In this edition of ‘Face to Face’, I talk with Professor Roger Kirby, who is a Consultant Urologist and Director of The Prostate Centre in London. Open since March 2006, the Centre is a state-of-the art facility and the only private centre in the UK devoted exclusively to prostate problems and the entire spectrum of men's health. He did his undergraduate training in Medical Sciences at the University of Cambridge's St. John's College and his medical degree at the University of London and the Middlesex Hospital. Later, he returned to the University of Cambridge to obtain his MD. For 9 years, he served as Consultant Urologist, Department Head, and Director of Postgraduate Medical Education at St. George's Hospital where he became Professor of Urology in 2001. Professor Kirby is a prolific author and fundraiser, working tirelessly for several charities devoted to prostate cancer and other urological conditions. I recently spoke with him in his London offices. To listen to the complete interview, please visit http://www.bjui.org/.
John Fitzpatrick (JF): Well, it is a great pleasure to be talking today to Professor Roger Kirby. We have known each other for a very, very long time. Roger, tell us where you were born and where you went to school.
Roger Kirby: I was born in Buckinghamshire, and went to school in Berkhamsted, which is a kind of minor public school, where my elder brother and younger brother were also at. So, we were the three Kirby bothers together. All of us played on the school's rugby team. Berkhamsted was quite well known for its rugby prowess, but perhaps not the academically excellent school. But actually, we had a fantastic time there.
JF: Your elder brother is a doctor. What was it that motivated you to do medicine?
Kirby: You are right. My elder brother was a doctor, Mike Kirby, now Professor of General Practice. My father also was a Professor of Biochemistry. He used to work at the Chester Beatty on cancer research. In fact, he became a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) on the basis of his work on the extraction of DNA from mammalian tissues. Unfortunately, he died rather prematurely from heart disease at the age of 49 years, when I was aged 16 years and still at school. So that was a bit of a tragic event for our family.
But we did not let that get us down. In fact, it only made me work a bit harder, because before then I used to mess about a bit in school. After my father died, I realised I had better start doing some work, because I was going to have to make some progress all by myself. And that is pretty much what I did. I think it helped me get into Cambridge University as a medical student.
JF: To become a FRS is a very rare event in somebody's career. Were you inspired by that?
Kirby: Yes, that was a major inspiration. He was a fantastic, fun-loving guy, actually, a character. Everybody loved him. He was a great father, researcher, and an inspiration to us all. Although it was tragic that he died so young, sometimes an event like that can have a positive effect. It kind of galvanized us. We still think about him in the most positive terms. They say that if you die young, you die a hero. If you live too long, you become a bit of a silly old fool! So, in some ways, although he died much too young, he is still an inspiration to me and Mike.
JF: How did you enjoy Cambridge?
Kirby: I am not going to tell you exactly all the things I got into at Cambridge. I was at St. John's College, which is famous for its rowing. It was founded by Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VIII. So, it is a very historic place and a fantastic place to be a medical student. We just had so much fun. I went there in 1969 and stayed there until 1972. Those were really good days at the end of the 60s.
JF: The hospital was in London though, wasn't it?
Kirby: The clinical medical school in Addenbrooke's hospital did not open until the mid-70s. So, we all left Cambridge, en masse, and came down to London as a big group. When I went to the Middlesex Hospital, Richard Turner-Warwick was the famous lead urologist there. He inspired me to go into urology.
Again, we had a fantastic time because that part of London on Charlotte Street was where all the advertising agencies were. There were just non-stop parties, social events, concerts. In between all those things, I actually did a little bit of work too and managed to get through my finals! Sounds a bit boastful but I got a distinction in surgery at Cambridge in 1975. That is probably what inspired me to do surgery. I am really pleased now that I did. Before that, I was thinking about doing cardiology!
JF: When did urology come along?
Kirby: I did my first house job over in Cheltenham working with a guy called Peter Boreham. He was a slightly grumpy, but very inspirational guy. So, I just really liked him and thought urology was kind of a thinking-man's surgery. It was more interesting than general surgery, more of an intellectual challenge. I just kind of took to it really. From that time on, I decided I was going to do urology. I have no regrets about that – some 30 years later!
JF: You then went to various hospitals around the country, but ended up back in London.
Kirby: Yes, they were Brighton, Wolverhampton, and Gloucester. Ken Shuttleworth from St. Thomas' sent me up to Wolverhampton. He said, ‘Kirby, you'd better get up to the Midlands. There's so much work up there. To be a good technical surgeon, you just have to do lots of cases. So, I want you to go there’. I was slightly horrified when I arrived in Wolverhampton, sort of the ‘Black Country’, thinking I was going to have to live there for a couple of years. Actually I had a fantastic time and we did loads of work.
JF: You became a consultant after you did your senior registrar training. Then, you went to St. Bartholomew's.
Kirby: That's right, St. Bartholomew's Hospital, the oldest hospital in England at its original site, founded in 1123 with the famous Henry VIII gate that you go into in Smithfield. It was a fantastic place. My two colleagues there were Hugh Whitfield and Bill Hendry. I actually took John Wickham's job, so I felt quite proud to be a replacement for him, although I never learned to be as good of a surgeon as he was!
JF: Many people ask me where you and I first met. I was having a conversation with Professor Geoffrey Chisholm, and suddenly this individual came up and interrupted our conversation!
Kirby: [Laughs] It was during one of the first meetings I ever organised on prostate cancer. We invited some well-known people down, including Chisholm and the still young and vibrant Professor John Fitzpatrick! I remember having a conversation with Chisholm, saying that I never would ever be able to become a professor because it would mean losing too much money! He looked especially askance.
JF: Your memory is quite right. However, a few years later, you moved to St. George's Hospital.
Kirby: St. Bartholomew's was under threat of closure. They wanted to merge it with the London Hospital, which had a different urology department and different ethos to ours. St. George's had a vacant job for Director of Urology because Bob Shearer had gone to the Royal Marsden. It was in the southwest of London, near where I had bought a house in Wimbledon Village. They gave me a research unit there, where we did some trials. It was a good move.
JF: One of the things I remember about you in those days was how you talked about people inspiring you. However, you have also inspired a lot of young, up-and-coming urologists to do research. Tell us about that.
Kirby: It is one of the things I feel most proud about: the people we have helped get into the specialty. In those days, you could not really get to be a senior registrar in urology unless you did some research first. It also helped with a consultant application later on if you got a higher degree, such as an MD or an MS. We found money for 17 people to do research; all of them but one ended up with a higher degree. All of them, even the one who did not get the higher surgical degree, have all gone on to be flourishing, successful consultants in urology. In a way, it is a kind of legacy I left behind for which I feel quite proud.
JF: You moved into the private sector but not before you become a professor.
Kirby: I was lucky to get that professorship. It was on the basis of all the publications, something like 325 papers, I published and the more than 60 books. Professor John Herman Taylor, quite the famous general surgeon at St. George's, was the one who put together the proposal for a chair in urology. I thank him for doing that and was lucky to get it! Having spent 25 years in the NHS, writing all those papers, and becoming a professor, I just felt like another change in my life. I get a bit restless after ≈10 years of doing the same thing! That is when I decided to spend the final decade of my career in urology establishing and running The Prostate Centre.
JF: The Prostate Centre has a really huge patient base and also has an academic sense about it as well. Would you agree?
Kirby: We try to make it a centre of excellence outside the NHS. Quite a bit of writing comes from here. Although we do not do much research, we write about the research that others do and use it. As the Centre is dedicated to men's health, we use this research to inspire men to live longer, healthier, and fitter lives by doing more exercise and eating less food.
JF: One of the things you have helped popularise is robotic radical prostatectomy. Why are you so attracted to that as a surgical technique?
Kirby: Again, that was a bit of serendipity and good luck. I had been across to the Henry Ford Institute in Detroit, Michigan. From 2002 onward, we were watching the developments of robotic prostatectomy. I had done > 1000 open radical prostatectomies using a suprapubic transverse incision and getting pretty good results. But, it was difficult to get perfect vision of the nerves.
The London Clinic acquired a first generation daVinci® robot in 2005. I had no choice but to learn how to do it, as I was already doing all the open ones. Patients were also asking to have it done in a minimally invasive way. So it became sort of imperative.
JF: Another big part of your life and work is what you do for charity. What motivates you? Tell us about some of your activities.
Kirby: A number of things motivate me to work with these charities. I get more excited when I receive a donation of a £1000 or just recently £250 000 for charity than I do when I get a cheque written up for me! We set up the Prostate Research Campaign, UK in 1995, which is now called ‘Prostate Action’. It turned into a flourishing charity that brings in >£2 million a year. Of course, with your help John, we started the British Urology Foundation in 1995, now simply called ‘The Urology Foundation’. That is also flourishing as well, bringing in >£500 000 a year. The monies go to support research into prostate and other urological cancers. Both charities also support a lot of training. We send young surgeons across to America to learn how to do laparoscopic and robotic operations. I think we do a lot of good!
JF: You and I have had a lot of fun with this charity thing. It has added a fitness element into our lives that is required to climb mountains and do long and difficult treks to raise money. Do you enjoy that as well?
Kirby: Oh yes! That goes back to 2000, when I met an inspirational patient called Andrew Everington. We refer to him as ‘The Legend’ now. He is a tough-as-nails 75-year-old Scotsman. When we first met, I told him he needed his prostate cancer treated. He said, ‘well, you can, but it will stop me from running in the 2000 London Marathon.’ So, I came back with, ‘No, it won't stop you. In fact, not only will it not stop you, but I'll run it with you,’ because I had always wanted to do it. So, I ran the London Marathon 3 years in a row, then thought, well, I have got to do something different. That is when you and I were kicking around this idea of climbing up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
We decided to do that. All 14 of us got to the top – some sooner than others! Rather annoyingly, you got up there well ahead of me and most everyone else. But, we all got to the top eventually, including me despite some mountain sickness. We raised £200 000! That started us off on a whole series of other interesting treks in Corsica, Mount Kinabalu in Borneo, and just recently, an amazing trek north of Annapurna in Nepal. The latter raised £440 000 for Prostate Action. We have had some fantastic adventures, John!
JF: Oh, we certainly do. It has added a totally new dimension to my life, for which I am certainly delighted. And, I am afraid, Roger, it is all you fault! It has been a really great pleasure to have a conversation with you, Roger, today. Thank you for letting us into some aspects of your life of which others may not be aware. Thank you very much indeed.
Kirby: Great pleasure, John!
FAVOURITE THINGS AND THOUGHTS
Richard Turner-Warwick, Ken Shuttleworth, and John Wickham.
‘Richard was my mentor and a fantastic surgeon, kind of pleasantly eccentric, always a fantastic character’.
‘I love Shakespeare! I tend to bore all my friends and relatives by quoting my favourite passages, such as the one by Brutus in Julius Caesar (Act 4, Scene 3):
‘There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.’
‘The words still make my spine shiver whenever I listen to Shakespeare. Nothing does it for me like his works’.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.
‘Actually, I am just reading Great Expectations, partly because my daughter played Estella in the BBC miniseries. Just is a fantastic book; he is such a brilliant writer! I said to myself that this year I would try and read the whole of Dickens’ output. But then my son actually went and bought me the box set. I think there are ≈40 books in it. So, so far, I have only read one! I have got 39 more to read before the end of the year. I do not think I am going to make it!'
Led Zeppelin ‘Stairway to Heaven’, Amy Winehouse Back to Black.
‘When I turn on “Stairway to Heaven”, it just sends shivers up my spine, too, because it reminds me of some of the good-old-days we had back in the 1970s’.
‘Amy Winehouse was a fantastic little singer –Back to Black is a very good album’.
‘I am kind of egregious when it comes to musical tastes. I listen to Classic FM a lot. Some of my real proper music lover's sneer at me! I like Classic FM; it is really good. But, I also listen to some Rock ‘n’ Roll.