Dr Dawn Harper has become a familiar face in living rooms throughout the country in recent years, but her feet still remain firmly rooted in her medical origins, as she explains to Women UK.
DAWN, HOW DID YOU MAKE THE INITIAL TRANSITION FROM STRAIGHTFORWARD MEDICAL CAREER TO MEDIA MEDIC?
I have always done other things alongside General Practice and I was working on a consumer health website answering medical queries when I received a query on smear results. At the time I was the only female partner in a seven doctor practice so this was very much my field. It turned out the lady asking for my advice was the editor of a women’s magazine and she ended up asking me to write a monthly column for her. This led to another magazine job and ultimately I was asked to audition for a series on Channel 4. I laughed at the prospect at first and politely turned it down. When I told friends, family and colleagues they all encouraged me to change my mind and a week later I found myself auditioning for the role. The producer was very excited and convinced that I would get the job. She even introduced me to my now agent and I rode the crest of a wave for a couple of weeks before being told that I hadn’t got the job. Debbie, my agent, encouraged me to “go out and get some experience”. I had heard that Eamonn Holmes was doing a new breakfast news show on Sky and I rang them to see if they would like a weekly GP slot discussing the medical headlines of the week. For the next six months, I used to leave home at 3.30am and drive myself to the studio to do a five minute slot and then drive back to do a full day in General Practice. I recorded these and made a DVD which I sent to Debbie. She signed me and the rest I guess is history!
HOW DO YOU DIVIDE YOUR WEEK UP BETWEEN YOUR MEDICAL PRACTICE AND YOUR MEDIA WORK?
I work every Friday in an NHS surgery and do occasional other days but most of my working week now is spent talking and writing about medical issues. When we are filming Embarrassing Bodies that is quite full on. I have just finished filming a new C4 series called “Born Naughty?” which will be on our screens in the New Year. I am a regular on ITV’s This Morning and resident GP on LBC radio and am also in the middle of writing a series of books for Sheldon Press. “Dr Dawn’s Guides” which will be out in the summer of 2015.
ARE YOU A KEEN FOLLOWER OF FASHION?
I have always loved fashion and it seems Twitter is as interested in what I wear as they are in any medical advice I may have! I have a favourite store in Cheltenham – Feva Designs who always have something different and I have recently discovered Bernshaw Dresses who have leant me some beautiful dresses for red carpet events.
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE YOUR CAREER PROGRESSING AND ARE YOU VERY AMBITIOUS?
I love both parts of my working week and would love to continue to do more of both. My friends and family tell me I am very ambitious and that whenever I have achieved something I set out to do, I move the goal posts and set off on something new. I would love to do something really big for charity and like everyone else on TV I guess, I would jump at the possibility of doing Strictly!
DO YOU FIND THAT BEING A GP MEANS THAT YOU OFTEN FEEL LIKE YOU ARE ON A ‘BUS MAN’S HOLIDAY’ DURING YOUR DOWNTIME?
Not at all. I really enjoy my job and if answering a quick question in the supermarket or in a restaurant helps someone then it is an absolute pleasure.
HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED ANY PARTICULARLY CHALLENGING, STRESSFUL OR FUNNY EVENTS WHEN YOU HAVE BEEN PRESENTING LIVE TV?
I once worked with another presenter on live TV and just as we were rehearsing – and half an hour before we went live on air – he pulled his ear piece out and said he really couldn’t cope with everyone talking to him in his ear piece. I explained to the producers, that as I had three very noisy teenagers at home, I was more than used to three people talking to me at the same time and they could just put everything through my ear!
WHAT IS IT LIKE BEHIND THE SCENES OF THIS MORNING?
As lovely as you would expect it to be! It really is like one big family. The presenters are as fabulous off camera as they are on and the team behind the scenes are amazing.
YOU WERE INVOLVED IN A ROAD ACCIDENT IN 2003, WHICH TOOK A LONG TIME FOR YOU TO RECOVER FROM. HAS THIS HAD ANY LASTING IMPACT ON YOU EITHER PHYSICALLY OR EMOTIONALLY?
It has probably made me more empathetic to patients and also helped me to be more upbeat about recovery. I had always been taught that recovery from an accident could take up to a year and that in most cases, what you were left with at a year was probably going to be as good as it was going to get. I remember feeling rather down at a year as I was unable to fully flex my knee and couldn’t kneel down. I took my rehabilitation incredibly seriously and worked hard on my physio every day. Two years after the accident, my knee was almost as good as new but I do watch my weight, even just half a stone makes a difference and my knee starts to niggle.
YOU SPECIALISE IN WOMEN’S HEALTH, PARTICULARLY MENSTRUAL DISORDERS; WHAT LEAD YOU TO PRIORITISE THIS AS YOUR SPECIALITY?
For the first ten years of my General Practice career I was the only female partner in a seven doctor practice. I obviously found myself doing a lot of women’s health. I have always believed that as human beings, we enjoy doing what we are good at and are good at what we enjoy, so I set out to do more specialised gynaecology and studied women’s health in detail. Today I have two other lady doctors in my practice but it is still something I enjoy and my first “Dr Dawn’s Guide” will be on women’s health.
HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK ‘BEDSIDE MANNER’ IS WHEN IT COMES TO AIDING PATIENTS WITH THEIR RECOVERY?
I think it is crucial. There is really good evidence that the better informed an individual is, the better their recovery and prognosis. It is vital that patients feel at ease and are able to ask anything they like. I would feel mortified if my patients felt they couldn’t ask me something.