Lives of the fellows

Kenneth MacIntyre MacLeod

b.17 February 1963 d.11 July 2009
MB ChB Aberdeen(1986) MRCP(1989) MD(1997) FRCP(2001) FRCP Edin(2003)

As the first associate dean, director of clinical studies and lead in Exeter, Kenneth MacLeod played a pivotal part in the development of the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry from its foundation in 2000. He was born in Falkirk, Scotland, the son of Kenneth MacLeod, a clerk, and Annie Cruikshanks née MacIntyre. He was educated in Stenhousemuir and at Larbert High School. His medical education was at the University of Aberdeen where, as an undergraduate, he won prizes in medicine, physiology, biochemistry and ophthalmology, as well as a commendation for his elective report on family planning in southern India. In 1986 he qualified MB ChB with commendation.

After initial house appointments in Aberdeen and Inverness, he was appointed as a medical registrar at the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. His lifelong interests in diabetes, medical education and health service provision were already becoming apparent, not only in his definitive appointment, but also with his simultaneous appointments as honorary clinical tutor in the Aberdeen teaching hospitals and as honorary research fellow to the University of Aberdeen health services research unit.

In 1990 he moved from Aberdeen to the department of diabetes and university department of medicine in Edinburgh as a British Diabetic Association research fellow and then, in 1992, on to registrar posts at the Royal Infirmary and Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, where he continued his clinical and research interest in diabetes while at the same time consolidating his experience in general (internal) medicine and in the wider field of endocrinology.

No doubt he was drawn south to Exeter in 1994 as a senior registrar in medicine at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital by the exciting developments in the provision of diabetic care. These offered an opportunity to make his own contribution, to expand into other allied research fields, as well as to continue with his own research into hypoglycaemia. One abiding memory of these early days in Exeter will be of him, as a hardy Scot, striding purposefully in his shirtsleeves from the diabetes centre to the main hospital with us, effete southerners, lagging behind, struggling to get into warm clothes. His particular interest in hypoglycaemia typified the man in that his research was not only of scientific importance, but also had a highly practical application to problems faced by insulin-dependent diabetic patients. As an example, in one of his papers he showed diabetic patients were no more hazardous drivers than other people. In 1994 he was awarded an MD by Aberdeen University for his thesis on insulin-induced hypoglycaemia. His considerable talents as a clinician and as a researcher were plain to see, and in 1996, at the age 33, he was appointed as a consultant physician. He was elected as a Fellow of the College in 2001 and of the Edinburgh College in 2003.

From early in his career medical education was an important strand to Ken’s professional life. Through the years many undergraduates and postgraduates greatly enjoyed his carefully considered, enthusiastic teaching. At the time of his arrival in Exeter plans were already rapidly developing for the establishment of one of the new wave of medical schools arising from the government’s appreciation of the need for more doctors. The new medical school (later college) arose from a cooperative bid from the universities of Exeter and Plymouth in a unique venture embracing the whole of the south west peninsula. It aimed at an innovative medical educational programme. With his first class clinical skills, special clinical and research interests in diabetes and endocrinology, coupled with a strong interest in medical education, Ken was an obvious person to play a major role in setting up the clinical programme. Above all, it was his personality and drive that suited him to the tasks facing anyone in a venture of this magnitude. As a man of utter integrity he commanded wide respect and trust. It should not be concluded, though, that he was fearful of coming to a clear, firm, no nonsense conclusion when this was required of him. In other words, he was an ideal person to negotiate the perils of setting up a new venture. Once the school was up and running, his approach stood him in good stead in helping some of the more vulnerable students he came to care for. He worked indefatigably in support of all students, always seeking for new ways to improve their education. Recognition of his achievements in medical education came with foundation membership of the Academy of Medical Educators in 2009, and his membership of the prestigious Harvard Macy discussion group in Boston, USA.

It was his great clinical skill, not only in his discipline of diabetes and endocrinology, but also in the field of general (internal) medicine, that made him such a popular physician – one to whom other doctors entrusted themselves and their families. Needless to say, he was kept busy by all the varied demands made of him, but he never swerved from his belief that providing a first class clinical service was paramount. His influence spread wide. For example, he fostered the importance of primary care, promoted the district-wide retinal screening programme, and took responsibility for the care of diabetes in pregnancy. A particular achievement was the setting up of a newly refurbished centre for diabetes and vascular disease, which opened in 2006. All of these activities made him a remarkable role model for students and the doctors, senior and junior alike.

In spite of a busy life, he continued personal research, as well as supervising postgraduates working for higher degrees. Moreover, he participated fully in multi-centre studies; at the time of his death he was involved in 16. As a member of the Department of Health’s group concerned with improvement of service provision for diabetic patients, he investigated the job satisfaction of diabetologists. These examples give some indication of the breadth of his interests. In addition he was a member of Department of Health and Department of Transport committees concerned with provision of services for diabetes and with driving by diabetic patients. He was active on three editorial boards, as well as a member of several national research committees.

Outside of his professional work, he had other interests involving the local community. Most prominent was his deeply-held Christian belief, which permeated all he did. Many would not have known of this as he was such a modest man who believed in the importance of leading by example. He was a churchwarden and, with his wife, a teacher, ran youth groups.

He died suddenly at the age of 46 while playing tennis with his friends. His premature death was the result of recently diagnosed hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy. News of his sudden death spread rapidly throughout the city. The following day a taxi driver asked whether it was true and was plainly saddened to have it confirmed. The wide sense of sadness was summarised by Vaughan Pearce, medical director, when he said: “His patients and all his colleagues at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital and in the wider community will all miss his energy, care, commitment, skill and integrity.” It was further evidenced by the huge number of friends, colleagues, and patients who attended his funeral. In his eulogy the dean, Sir John Tooke, summarised the sense of loss to the medical community by saying: “He was the best dean the Peninsula College never had.” He is survived by his wife Stephanie Helen née Bowling and his children Ethan (a medical student), Hope and Daniel.

Brian J Kirby

[The Scotsman 10 August 2009; The Herald 19 August 2009; The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh]

(Volume XII, page web)

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