Lives of the fellows

Andrew Rae Gilchrist

b.7 July 1899 d.1 March 1995
CBE(1961) MB ChB Edin(1921) MRCP Edin(1925) FRCP Edin(1929) MD(1933) MRCP(1937) FRCP(1944) Hon FRACP(1959) FRCPS(1961)

In 1930 Rae Gilchrist, an alert young physician working in acute medical wards at the Royal Infirmary, reported in the Edinburgh Medical Journal on the first seven cases of coronary thrombosis recorded in Europe. It was a seminal report and was ignored by almost all his seniors, most of whom had not heard of the condition. Gilchrist went on to help establish cardiology as a specialty in Edinburgh. Later in his career Rae Gilchrist expressed the view that coronary heart attacks - first described in 1911 - are a new disease of this century.

Rae Gilchrist, a son of the manse, was born in Belfast. He spent a year in the Royal Field Artillery between 1917 and 1918 before qualifying in medicine at Edinburgh University in 1921. He held junior appointments at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, the Princess Elizabeth Hospital for Children, London, and spent a year at the Rockefeller Hospital in New York. He was appointed to the consultant staff of the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, at the early age of 31. He always said that he was lucky because three more senior physicians had died before the age of fifty. His life long interest was heart disease and he established cardiology in Edinburgh in 1953 with the opening of a dedicated department. His particular interest was in cardiac arrhythmias, paediatric cardiology and cardiac problems associated with pregnancy.

Over a thirty year period Rae Gilchrist, together with Stanley Davidson [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p. 136] and Derrick Dunlop [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p. 170], influenced the learning and clinical judgement of medical students and young graduates. He was a physically large and formidable man, but magnanimous. Humour was never far away. As a teacher he would brook no equivocation. An ambiguous answer to one of his commanding bedside questions would be met by scorn. This bred a discipline and orderliness of mind that few other teachers achieved. He welcomed new advances and encouraged his young staff to develop new ideas, although always with appropriate critical appraisal. He was strict in his assessments of their contributions. To be prolix was fatal. To vacillate was nearly as bad. To dissemble in any way was unacceptable. But when new ideas were being developed he was excited and gave all his considerable influence to their study. Although clinically oriented, Gilchrist recognized the need to encourage studies of clinical physiology and biochemistry.

Gilchrist was the longest surviving fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, having been elected in 1929. He was president during the years 1957 and 1960. He was also a founder member of the British Heart Foundation.

He married Emily Faulds in 1931 and they had a son and a daughter. Following his first wife's death in 1967, he married Elspeth Wrightman in 1975. Rae Gilchrist retired at the age of sixty six, ironically after a major coronary thrombosis.

Cardiology flourishes in Edinburgh today and this is largely a result of Rae Gilchrist’s enthusiasm and influence. His greatest contribution to the practice of medicine and cardiology was to give confidence to his patients and, in his words "to try to understand their fears and needs".

Michael Oliver

[The Times, 19 Apr 1995; Brit.med.J., 1995,311,506]

(Volume X, page 164)

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