Making Unfamiliar - Debbie Jegede interview
Debbie Jegede portrait.
Physician Associate and co-curator, Debbie Jegede

Debbie Jegede is a lead physician associate in the emergency department at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, a member of the RCP’s Diversity and Inclusion Delivery Group, and co-curator of our current exhibition ‘Unfamiliar’. We recently chatted with Debbie about the experience of co-curating at the RCP: 


How did you get involved with the project?

I was asked to be a part of the project by Lowri [Lowri Jones, senior curator]. She sits in a group that I also am a part of, which is the RCP, Diversity and Inclusion Delivery Group, we’re part of the Showcasing Diversity subgroup of that group. Lowri explained they needed someone with a medical background, so I was approached and I said yes because it seemed like quite an exciting project.


Before this, did you have an interest in the history of medicine? Had you seen any of the RCP collections for example?

I hadn't seen any of the RCP collections and actually prior to this I hadn't been to the RCP building. I'd been qualified at the time when I was approached for about four years and obviously for three of those years COVID unfortunately happened. So, I didn't have the opportunity to go to the RCP building. That was probably another reason why it was exciting to take on the opportunity to actually go to the building and see what the history was about. In general I did have a little bit of knowledge on the history of medicine, but in terms of museums and the depth of what the RCP has in their collections, I didn't have any idea about that.


As this was a new activity for you, in comparison, what's a normal work day like as a physicians associate?

At the moment I work in A&E, in Romford, so if I'm on shifts on a normal day I start off with a hand overs. If there's any patients that needs continuous of care from a clinician you take the handovers. If not we start today with just seeing patients. If there's patients that need more clinical attention more urgently, we see them first. I see the patient, take a history, examine, order any investigation scans or blood tests that need to happen and then follow that up to see if maybe they can be discharged or determine if they need any specialty input or any follow-ups arranged. I then discuss with the consultant to come up with a plan for the complete management of the patient.

In addition to that, I'm also one of the lead physician associates at this hospital. So what that role involves is discussing with the other leads the roster, providing pastoral care to junior members of staff, being a part of the recruitment process for the physician associate program at that trust, and working with other specialties to implement physician associates within their department.

So a bit of clinical and a bit of managerial stuff. It’s a role I went into in July just to mix things up - it's been exciting so far.


How were you involved in creating this exhibition?

On the first day I met up with Theo, he gave me a bit of introduction as to his previous work and I gave him a bit of background about myself. We then came up with what kind of direction we wanted to go in [with the project].

Obviously COVID was a bit of a hot topic for him and for myself working during the pandemic. So we decided we go down the respiratory pathway. When I first qualified I was in respiratory medicine so it has always been a speciality that’s close to my heart. But we didn't really want [the exhibition] to be about COVID we wanted to give a bigger picture of what respiratory medicine is as a whole. Once we decided on the area we were going to focus on, we went to the stores and had a look at everything. It was a bit of an eye opener to see how much was in the stores and in the collections, the different pieces, the books. When I came here, I just saw a building, I didn't know how much was actually kept and how many special things were in that building.

Then as a team we honed our decisions. At first I was just picking anything that looked interesting with a clinical mind and then he gave the creative photographer point of view in terms of ‘actually, this looks good, but it might not photograph well’, ‘it will reflect the light’ or ‘it might not be picked up well on the camera’.

We played off each other. I had a clinical interest in the items and he had the creative mindset and together, I think it married well to pick special items that created the beautiful pictures that we have today.


How did you find co-curating with an artist?

I haven't really got an artistic bone. Art was never my forte I mean in school I couldn’t draw stick men properly, so it was really interesting to see an artist’s point of view and also it made me open my eyes and my mind into an artistic point of view myself.

It opened my mind as well to see things from a different point of view, and I think that's what Theo's work is based around, taking pictures of things so that they can be interpreted in another way.

That added to how much I appreciated this opportunity because it wasn't like I'm just giving a clinical view and that was the end. He actually impacted my thought process when I was picking the items and so I appreciated that opportunity and having that interaction with him.

Book, edge on (c) Theo Deproost
Ptolemy, Geographiae (Rome, 1508)

What's your favourite artwork?

I really like the book with the etchings along the side because [of] the way it comes up it kind of looks quite haunting with the green light shone on this area.

I also liked the cycling mask. At first glance, it looks like an abstract image, you wouldn't really know what it is. I can identify with wearing masks because it became part of my uniform for two and a half years. It's still part of my uniform actually. So I identify with that as well, how [mask-wearing has] evolved and the fact that we're using masks now.

All the artworks, they look amazing, but I think those two for now - it changes all the time when I see them. Like I said, Theo makes me think about things in different ways.


Was there anything you found fascinating in the collection that didn't make the final selection and why?

There was a lot of silverware that I saw. It didn't make the collection because it just didn't fit with our whole focus of respiratory medicine. But it was quite interesting to see how doctors were considered to be these, almost like royal people. They had all these expensive silverware and cutlery and just the perception of who a doctor was back then. I know that people appreciate who doctors are now, but the view, it's completely different, they're not treated like these special royal people.

I was quite fascinated with the details and how delicate these items were. I haven't got a piece of silverware in my house now, so it was quite interesting to see that. Obviously they didn't make it because they didn't fit with the theme, but it was something that I was quite interested in.

There were also a lot of snuff boxes that I was drawn to, but we couldn’t pick every single stuff box to include!


Has this changed how you think about the medical tools you use every day?

100% I think the stethoscope, I've learned to appreciate it a bit better. Just to see how it's evolved. So back then it was just a bit of a single piece of wood, just one end to another. The way they used it was probably the same way we use our stethoscope now, one end was the bell at one end and the other end the diaphragm, just to listen to the heart or lungs. But on a day-to-day basis, you know, stethoscope is just something that you just put in your bag or you throw in your locker and just carry on with your day. It makes me appreciate it’s actually come a long way and it's a lot of development and thought process has gone into what we have today.

It made me appreciate more on a day-to-day basis that this isn't just you know like a random bit of equipment. This is something that has been in medicine for so long and it's evolved into what we have today.

From the exhibition we've got the bedazzled stethoscope and we've got the plain wooden one, the contrast between them is quite a lot.


Decorated stethoscope, (c) Theo Deproost
 A bejewelled stethoscope, gifted to Professor Dame Jane Dacre (c) Theo Deproost


Wooden stethoscope.
Monaural stethoscope, (c) Theo Deproost


Has this experience changed how you think about museum collections?

Definitely. I think as a child, my parents always took us to different museums and obviously school trips. But growing older, especially with just working in hospitals and being in university for so long, I haven't really had the opportunity to explore further, as an adult, museums and appreciating art collections.

Since the exhibition I went to Prague and Denmark and all the places that topped my itineraries were museums and galleries. It just made me appreciate more artwork, historical pieces and the history behind certain areas, certain artwork and different collections. So it's definitely impacted my day-to-day life and the things that I do and have interest in.

It’s also changed my thought process, even though I said I didn't have an artistic bone, I feel like now I have some of idea of the art world, even if it's just a tiny bit. So, I think it's definitely made an impact into my life and that's a big statement, but I definitely think it has made some changes.



Exhibition ‘Unfamiliar’ explores stunning reinterpretations of the RCP’s medical and fine art collections by photographer Theo Deproost and physician associate Debbie Jegede. Theo and Debbie invite us to approach these objects and images with a curious mind, to experience them in unexpected ways, and reinterpret them through the lens of our own experiences.

From 23 Jan you can visit the exhibition Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm and until 8pm at our Museum Lates.

Gail Chapman ,
Public programmes officer

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