Lives of the fellows

Seymour Cochrane Shanks

b.9 April 1893 d.14 May 1980
CBE(1958) MB ChB Glasg(1915) MD(1932) MRCP(1938) FFR(1939) FRCP(1942)

Cochrane Shanks was born in Barrhead, Renfrewshire, the son of William Shanks and Catherine (née Cook McCallum). He was educated at the Glasgow Academy, and qualified from the University of Glasgow, where he subsequently obtained his MD degree. He was barely qualified as a doctor when he joined the RAMC and served in Egypt and France in the first world war.

It was fortunate for the medical discipline of radiology that he decided on that branch of medicine as a career. He became radiologist at the Prince of Wales General Hospital in 1920, and an assistant radiologist at Charing Cross Hospital in 1923. He was appointed to be director of the X-ray department at University College Hospital in 1939, and he retired from this post in 1958.

Shanks was a man of considerable intellectual capacity which, allied to his Scottish characteristics of hard work, tenacity and shrewdness, ensured his success in his chosen vocation. Appreciating that there was no published textbook in his own subject and recalling his own lack of formal training in his specialty, he enlisted the help of two of his senior colleagues in the subject and in 1938 published the well known Textbook of X-ray Diagnosis by British Authors. This had an immediate and continued success.

In like manner he saw the need for an association of medically qualified radiologists to promote the science in its several aspects, particularly the clinical and educational. With others he formed the British Association of Radiologists, of which he became the first secretary, and saw this body blossom into the Faculty, now the Royal College of Radiologists. Over a period of 19 years he played a vital part in the formative phases of these organizations. As warden he ensured the status of the fellowship and he initiated the training programme for young radiologists; he was president of the faculty from 1940 to 1943.

University College Hospital benefited considerably from his wise guidance when he was both dean of its medical school and chairman of its medical committee. He was allotted the task of reconditioning the old St Pancras Hospital and was also energetic in reviving the then declining dental school.

It was not surprising that he was one of the five doctors chosen from the profession to serve on the important Spens committee, which determined the remuneration of consultants when the National Health Service was instituted. The BMA valued his medico-legal interest, made him chairman of its medico-legal committee, and in this capacity he served for 21 years; he was also one of the outstanding presidents of the Medical Defence Union.

He was senior vice-president of the 6th International Congress of Radiology in 1950 and greatly helped in securing the overwhelming success of this function. The Minister of Health used his skills to good advantage as consultant adviser for nearly twenty years, and some acknowledgement of his service to medicine was seen in the award in 1958 of the CBE.

In his commitment to patient care he was equally active. He organized and administered a very efficient X-ray department at University College Hospital, and published many scientific papers, mostly on gastro-intestinal diseases. He built up a highly successful private practice, where he continued his work until well over 80, and once said to a younger colleague who was retiring ‘Don’t give up practice, let it give you up’.

His leisure was pursued and enjoyed with the same intensity as his medical life; motoring was a pastime from the age of 16, he thoroughly enjoyed world wide travel, he played a sound game of golf, and delighted in tennis at Wimbledon and opera at Glyndebourne and Covent Garden. He lived his life to the full with the devoted support of his first wife Edith (née Govan), and from 1956 of her younger sister Chrisma; there were no children.

RE Steiner

[Brit.med.J., 1980, 280, 1380; Lancet, 1980, 1, 1151; Times, 17 May 1980]

(Volume VII, page 527)

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