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Staff Profiles: Q&A with Iris Millis

The front of house staff who welcome you; the people that tell you all about the history of the museum, Victorian surgery and herbal medicine on the weekend talks; the people that take you on walking tours about public health and history of crime in Southwark; the people that catalogue and care for the collection; the people that organize after-hours events; the people that inform you about what is going on; the volunteer who gives up his time to help at the museum…These people make up the living fabric of the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret. We are delighted to introduce you to them and invite you to learn a bit more about them and the museum through these Q&A.

-So, who are you?

The Esmerach Set at the Museum.

Hi, I’m Iris Millis, and I hold a degree in History and in Heritage Tourism Management.

-What is your role in the museum? What do you do? How long have you worked here?

I’m the Museum and Finance Officer. Apart from looking at the figures, I also give talks and do front of house and basically step in wherever is needed. I am with the museum again since 2010. Again, because originally, I started as a volunteer in 2000, before I took over as Marking Officer in 2002.

-Why the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret?

The old Operating Theatre Museum is a fascinating place with a special atmosphere and brilliant colleagues. After time away, working for Bodyworlds and the Anaesthesia Heritage Centre, I was delighted to come back ‘home’.

-Have you always been interested in the History of Medicine?

Stonor Park, Oxfordshire.

Medicine and medical history have always been an interest of mine. My thesis about the letters left by the Stonor and Paston families included a chapter about health care and medicine in the Middle Ages and Early Modern times.

-If you had to choose one object in the collection as being particularly significant to you, which would it be?  

As a special interest is the history of anaesthesia, my favourite is the Esmarch set. It come complete with dropper bottle for chloroform, a mask and tongue forceps all neatly packed in a case for easy transport and use on the battle field originally.

-Who is your favourite historical figure in the History of Medicine? Who is he/she? Why is he/she important?

John Snow.

My favourite medical figure is John Snow. He was a complex man, whose genius not only stretched to his involvement to stop the spread of cholera. He was the first British Anaesthetist and clinical analyst in his approach to the new developments of his time. More about all this can be found in the museum blog where I have written about his life and contributions to medicine.

-Has working in the museum changed the way that you see the history of medicine?

I’d rather say it has confirmed it.

-What would you say the role of this museum is?

The museum as a unique and original space should transport visitors back into the past to explain how we got to where we are today. And of course wet their appetite to explore further.

-If you could change one thing in the museum, what would it be?

Definitely the space. It would be so great to have space for temporary exhibitions or educational activities to enhance the experience for our visitors.

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