What's Up Doc? Operation Transformation's GP says she treats leaders the same as patients
"What you see is who I am as a GP and as a GP, and having the privilege of working with people, it’s not for me to give out."
SHE’S best known as the glamorous GP helping people to overhaul their health on Operation Transformation.
But away from RTÉ’s cameras, Dr Sumi Dunne says she’s more likely to be found dashing between jobs in rain gear or chasing chickens around her back yard.
“When people catch me, normally what I look like [on OT] with fabulous hair — oh my God, what a treat every week — that’s not me on a regular basis,” laughs Dr Sumi, who joined the programme in 2018.
“I keep a very low profile. I think with a raincoat on, given the weather, and a mask on we all kind of look the same.
“This will be my fourth year, can you believe it?” she continues. “It is so enjoyable.
“The commitment that I give is outside all of my clinical and lecturing commitments, which turns out to be the weekend. It’s something to look forward to actually at the end of a busy clinical week.”
Mum-of-four Sarah O’Connor Ryan (38) from Tipperary, Kilkenny truck driver John Ryan (49) and hairdresser Stefano Sweetman (32) from Tipperary are among those attempting to turn their health around over the course of eight weeks on the show presented by Kathryn Thomas.
Medic Sumi once more rounds out the expert panel guiding the leaders on their journey alongside clinical psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy, personal trainer Karl Henry and dietician Aoife Hearne.
But she’s hoping to avoid the same fate as straight-talking Karl, who last year became the target of online abuse after tackling Galway man Paul Devaney for appearing not to take the challenge seriously, with her compassionate bedside manner.
“I’m exactly the same as I am in practice — I’m no different at all,” insists the mum-of-four, who replaced Dr Ciara Kelly — who was also previously in viewers’ crosshairs for lambasting 2015 leader Eilish Kavanagh for drinking alcohol at the races.
“What you see is who I am as a GP and as a GP, and having the privilege of working with people, it’s not for me to give out. I don’t think that is a productive way of ever talking to people who have health concerns and are doing everything to improve their health — that’s just not my style.
“So what you see of me, and I would like to think I haven’t given out, is more support and, if anything, to say where can additional support come from.”
Now in its fifteenth year, the programme has already come under fire for the unflattering Lycra outfits worn by the leaders during the weekly weigh-in. But the expert claims there’s nothing exploitative about the format which culminates in the participants showing off their weight loss during a fashion show in the grand finale.
“It’s always going to be an issue that people find difficult,” concedes Dr Sumi. “And I think we’re taking on board all of the feedback that’s been given.
“Last year we worked with the leaders and what they wanted, and interestingly the women very much preferred longer tops, which is what they went with; the guys were offered the same and chose of their own volition not to wear longer tops.
“That’s not always known, but the choice was given, and we would like to think with every year we’re evolving to be leader-centred, because it’s very much about the leaders and their stories. It’s their foray into the public which is so brave — I wouldn’t have that level of bravery I have to say.”
End Diet Culture Ireland is just one of the groups that has called on the divisive show, which is sponsored by the Department of Health, to be axed for allegedly promoting disordered eating.
Meanwhile Dr Sumi’s teens are boycotting it already, she explains: “My older ones are so embarrassed when I’m on TV they turn it off. My kids are mortified because teenagers are mortified at anything parents do really. My youngest is eight and she does get very excited so her enthusiasm is wonderful.”
As for her own secret to staying mentally and physically fit, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland lecturer says there’s no great mystery. “Four children, two dogs and several chickens that have a mind of their own,” she jokes of her exercise regime.
“I’m not punitive; [it’s about] what suits you and what you can fit into your lifestyle, but fresh air and getting out for a walk is just pivotal. It’s not only about moving, it’s that you time, no phone time, no trying to catch up on anything. I try and go for a walk every day.”
But even the Operation Transformation experts have guilty pleasures. Dr Sumi’s? “Dark chocolate— slabs of it”.
“At the moment, there’s one variety from a well known Swiss company that’s got little bits of honeycomb in it. And my children go, ‘Mum’s eating posh Crunchie again!’”
Operation Transformation continues this Wednesday on RTE One at 9.30pm
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