Talking to doctor and politician Tom Philipp is a real joy, so much so that time just flies by. His answers are knowledgeable and direct, never annoyed and he laughs a lot. Good qualities in a doctor as well as a politician. His first job after graduating was in the Thomayer hospital, and he has circled back last year after some amount of professional meandering throughout his life.
You have been the Head of the Rheumatology and Rehabilitation Clinic since December 2020. So you jumped back into an environment that was already partly repurposed for Covid patients?
Let’s start at the beginning. I came to our department as a junior doctor roughly 30 years ago, and after about 15 years, I started working as deputy director of therapeutic care hare at Thomayer. I went on to work in other places for a couple of years, but I still took on a little work at the outpatient department in TUH (Thomayer University Hospital). I just like being a doctor and treating people. I would always come to work in the outpatient department at least for a few hours a month, even when I worked as deputy minister of healthcare. And then, a little less than two years ago, they created a clinic here. When they were looking for somebody to head it, I was happy to apply because I was qualified enough. And so I got the job. Halfway through October last year, when the pandemic situation was getting rough, we were one of the first TUH departments that were repurposed for the Covid pandemic. We were also one of the last ones to revert to normal operations. So I came at a time when everything was being reworked and repurposed, things were not easy then. All of my colleagues deserve thanks and admiration.
How difficult was that change?
I would compare it to a young doctor coming to a new department or clinic. They have all the general knowledge on how to treat people, but no experience or postgraduate specialisations, so they work under the oversight of more experienced colleagues. So one day, we sent our patients with rheumatological and rehabilitation needs home and started treating people with pneumonia that came with the Covid infections. And we were all in the position of this junior doctor so we worked under the oversight of experienced pulmonologists. There was also a lot of pressure from the frequent deaths. Seeing your patients suffocate and die, not being able to do anything… It is extremely difficult, and all the doctors and nurses were exhausted physically as well as mentally. Despite knowing that you did everything you could and that there was no way to prevent that death, it feels like a personal failure and it sticks with you. We even had some psychologists over a few times to provide support. It was a difficult time.
Why did you get into politics?
It was not something intentional, things just happen sometimes. I go to church and they used to say that we should help one another, and whoever wanted to help should put a ticket with their name in a little box. So I did. Then municipal elections were coming up, and some people rang my doorbell and told me that since I signed up to help, it would be great if I ran for office for KDU-ČSL in Modřany. What could I do, when I actually signed up for it... (he laughs) I set a condition for myself that I would be last on the ticket, but I underestimated things. My mother was a G.P., everyone around here knew her so I ended up coming first instead of last. I am a member of the Prague City Assembly for the eighth term running, meaning 27 years in office.
If you get into the Chamber of Deputies, will you keep working at the clinic?
Most definitely. Sticking to your craft and doing politics as a hobby is something I would recommend to everyone. I have witnessed several doctors leaving their practice when they entered politics. And when they quit politics after, say 8 years, they no longer knew how to go back to their field. If you have a good profession, be it a doctor or a blacksmith, you should appreciate it and try to hold on to it. You need to have a bit of a detached approach in politics and realize that it is not something that puts food on the table. You should know that you are not dependent on it and that when you leave, you will be able to resume a normal life and go back to what you did before. As a doctor, I also meet people from all walks of life, many different professions, various levels of education, and I get immediate feedback from them. Sometimes it is positive, sometimes negative. They hear me say something in the media, and they react immediately. Similar to my colleagues, who can sometimes be very direct and rough in the expression of their opinions. Having feedback from people is extremely important. You cannot expect to just walk through the Chamber doors and live your whole life there. Life just does not work that way.
Do you feel that the current healthcare legislation is sufficient, or does it need some drastic changes?
There is always room for improvement. But yes, the legislation is quite well thought through and set up. It is about how it is used and practiced, however. And naturally about suppressing certain people who will try to abuse its imperfections, as no law is ever perfect. Now we are talking about morals, though. And if those are lacking, and loopholes in certain laws are being abused, then we will need to keep improving and amending the legislation. It would be ideal if people were fair and it could stay the way it is. Sadly, we do not live in an ideal world.
You worked as a physician, at the ministry, in a private company as well as in communal politics, in Jeseník… How did you find the time to have five children?
That is actually quite simple... (he laughs) I have three children of my own and two adopted ones. They are all around the same age, so it made things a little faster. (he laughs) But I grew up in a time when – with a bit of hyperbole – it was normal for children to have children. I had my first son when I was twenty-one, and the other kids followed in pretty quick succession. My wife stayed at home with all five of them and raised them mostly on her own, she deserves a lot of praise. They are all grown up now, all around thirty years of age, they have graduated and have jobs. So I have time for being a doctor and a politician. If you have a good relationship with your children, they will still need you even if they are adults, it is never quite finished. Even though it is not about bringing them up anymore, nowadays they are the ones who teach me things more than the other way around. It is not about helping them as much either, again it is actually me who calls them when I need help with a cellphone or computer issue. But mom and dad will always be your parents, and there come times in life when it is good to have the opportunity to talk to them. That is something that works well in our family, and it is amazing.
Are all your kids going to vote for you?
Based on how they have helped me with my campaign, especially with Twitter, Facebook, all the photos and videos, I am pretty sure they will! (he laughs).
By the way – does your name mean you have English heritage?
Not really. We managed to find some ancestors from Vienna who came here around the year 1780. Who were their ancestors, though, that I do not know. And I was named Tom because I was born during the Prague Spring in 1968 when things were a little more relaxed. Otherwise, I would have probably ended up a Tomáš because my mother was a big admirer of Masaryk. So my first name is based on his, with just a little twist.
Tom Philipp (born December 26, 1968, in Prague) is the Head of the Rheumatology and Rehabilitation Clinic of the Third Faculty of Medicine at the Charles University and the Thomayer University Hospital, member of the Prague City Assembly for the Prague 12 District, and former Deputy Minister of Health.
After graduating from the Second Faculty of Medicine at the Charles University, in 1993, he started working as a physician at the Rheumatology ward in the Thomayer hospital, where later he became the deputy director (2005-2014). He was the Deputy Minister of Health for four years, starting from 2014. “Then came Adam Vojtěch and the ANO party, and they cleaned house at all the ministries. I am still going through legal proceedings because of all that,” says Philipp.
#In November 2018, he started working in the Agel a.s. (Plc) company, where he was the Vice--Chairman of the Board as well as the Director of the Jeseník Hospital. “It was a very interesting time in my life, I learned a lot, both as a person and as a manager,” he says.