Baking for Britain
James Morton is a medical student and was a contestant on The Great British Bake Off
James Morton is a third year medical student at the University of Glasgow. He was recently a finalist on BBC2’s hit show The Great British Bake Off, in which 12 contestants compete to produce the best cakes, breads, and pies, and to be judged the best baker. James juggled filming the show with his medical studies. Originally from the Shetland Islands, he is now known across Britain for his baking prowess and an eclectic array of fairisle jumpers.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in medicine?
I applied for English Literature at school, but after doing a gap year in Ghana and working as a builder for six months I decided to study medicine. I suppose I felt a general indebtedness to society, I wanted to do my bit and to do something rewarding and challenging.
How did you get the time off to appear on The Great British Bake Off?
It was filmed in Bristol every weekend, so I flew down from Glasgow every Friday night and flew back every Sunday night. It was filmed at the worst possible time, from March to June, coinciding with my end of second year exams. It was stressful because there were a few clashing dates and a few weekdays that we had to be there which forced me to miss classes. But I would do it again—I even managed to get better grades in my second year exams than I did the year before.
Would you say that medicine is similar to baking?
Yes. There are many things I learnt at medical school that put me in good stead for the Bake Off. There is a lot of science in baking, especially in baking bread; you have to understand how bacteria and yeast interact and how you can use that to your advantage. Then there is the protein development in the gluten. You don’t need to have a scientific background for baking, but it does help. With baking you need everything to be absolutely right, or it can go horribly wrong. The same is true for medicine.
What is your experience of hospital food and what changes would you make?
I think baking, as opposed to cooking, is ideal for hospital food. Hospitals have massive commercial ovens and so you can bake huge amounts all at once. Hospital food needs to be easy to eat, but often it is quite gruel-like. I think that there is a greater role for baking in hospitals—I would love to see more clootie dumplings on the wards, for example.
How will you pursue your interest in baking alongside medicine in the future?
I’ve got no idea. There are a lot of avenues to go down but it’s just a question of trying to juggle that with medical school. It all kicked off after a Daily Mail article about the “tank top,” and since then I’ve had a few people approaching me wanting to be agents, and one television series getting in touch. It’s difficult when you’ve got to dedicate so much time to medicine when the other contestants on the Bake Off have similar opportunities and are able to pursue them.
Do you think it is important for medical students to pursue other interests to a high level?
Absolutely. We’ve just had our introductory week for the third year of medicine at Glasgow, and almost all the consultants teaching us said how important it was to have extra-curricular activities that make you stand out.
Is there anything that you have learnt during the bake off that you will bring back to medicine?
The biggest thing that connects the Bake Off with medicine is feedback. In medicine criticism is always constructive and medical schools have a habit of easing you into things, but on the Bake Off there was a different way of doing things.
I think the whole experience will make me better at giving feedback as a doctor—it has made me think twice about how to phrase something in the most constructive manner possible. I think that I will no longer have a problem with receiving criticism because I embarrass myself weekly in front of five million people.
As a future doctor, do you have any concerns about promoting cakes and other baked goods?
I’ve never said this in an interview before, but I don’t like cakes. I especially don’t like cupcakes. I’m more of a bread sort of guy—I like baking bread and I like making pastry. Making bread at home is extremely healthy—you can add all sorts of nutritious things and kneading is also great exercise. The only problem is eating the whole loaf once you’re done, which does occasionally happen.
What advice do you have for students who have a hobby that they might want to pursue?
My advice would be to go for it, try your absolute hardest, and don’t let anyone stop you. Probably it would be a good idea to let your medical school know what it is you’re doing because I think you will find a lot of sympathy there and they can often help you.Toby Pitts-Tucker, Clegg Scholar, BMJ
Correspondence to: email@example.com
Competing interests: None declared.
Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
Cite this as: Student BMJ 2012;20:e6955