Lives of the fellows

Alasdair Cameron Macdonald

b.17 October 1916 d.6 November 2003
MB ChB Glasg(1939) FRFPS Glasg(1947) MRCP(1948) FRCP Glasg(1964) FRCP(1973)

Cameron Macdonald had a distinguished career in Glasgow as a consultant physician at the Western Infirmary, an honorary clinical lecturer at Glasgow University, and a pioneer in the teaching and practice of psychosomatic medicine. He was born in Argyll 'a son of the manse' and studied medicine in Glasgow. Following graduation in 1939 and junior posts at the Western Infirmary, he joined the Royal Marines in 1941 on active service on escort vessels in the North Atlantic. He was the first doctor in the Royal Navy to qualify as a watch-keeping officer. Later he was engaged in research at the RAF Institute of Aviation Medicine which was important in the development of ejector seats.

After the war, postgraduate training in Glasgow led to his appointment as a consultant physician at the Western Infirmary, where he gained a considerable reputation as a clinical teacher. Students were fascinated by his ideas about the relationship between organic disease and the state of mind and spirit. He was a founder member of the Glasgow Psychosomatic Society, where physicians, general practitioners and psychiatrists met to exchange knowledge.

In addition to his duties at the Western Infirmary, Cameron Macdonald became physician to the Vale of Leven Hospital which was opened in 1956 as a unique experiment in Scotland, the medical unit being staffed by a resident house physician assisted by all the local GPs with Cameron and another part-time consultant from the Western Infirmary in charge. Needless to say his relationship with the doctors was excellent and the cooperative venture was a great success.

Cameron Macdonald was a first class general physician whose concern for his patients led him to study their mental health and to relate that to their physical disease. To that end he underwent a specialist training in psychotherapy which he practised until long after retiring age. He was a fascinating mixture of the practical physician and one with an instinctive gift of seeing into the workings of his patient's minds. This ability, combined with his deep warmth and humanity, made him a great healer of the sick. He was a humorous storyteller. Some of the interpretations of his patients' dreams were hard to believe, but formed the basis of a lively and informative discussion. The fact that his advice was sought by so many until he was over 80 is testimony to his unusual and illustrious career.

Cam had a happy marriage to Cath for nearly 60 years. Their elder son Alasdair is a consultant psychiatrist and Charles is a QC. Daughter Christine is a teacher on Skye, where the family spent their annual holidays. There are seven grandchildren. On his retirement from the Western Infirmary, Cam was given a special spade for cutting peat to warm his cottage on Skye. But the retired life was not for him. While still engaged in private practice, he found time to write a book which is a major contribution to our knowledge of psychosomatic illness. Could it be stress? Reflections on psychosomatic disorders was published in 1992 by Glendaruel, Argyll.

Hugh Brebner

[Brit.med.J., 2003,327,1291]

(Volume XI, page 361)

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