Lives of the fellows

William Bruce Thomson

b.22 January 1927 d.22 August 2009
BSc Lond(1948) MB BS(1951) MD(1952) MRCP(1954) FRCP(1972)

Bruce Thomson was a consultant physician at Wycombe Hospital in Buckinghamshire. He was born in West Hartlepool, the son of Robert Bruce Thomson, a tailor, and his wife, Freda Mary née Stotesbury. He was educated at Kingsbury Grammar School in north London, where he was captain of both the cricket and football teams. Although he did not come from a medical family, he was determined to study medicine and in 1945 entered as a student at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School. He was interviewed by Lord Moran [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.407], the then dean, who was impressed by Bruce’s academic abilities as well as by his sporting achievements. At St Mary’s, perhaps more renowned for its rugby, Bruce became captain of the football team. As a student, he won the Cheadle medal in clinical medicine. He qualified with honours in pathology and obtained his MD a year later, in 1952.

After National Service in the Royal Army Medical Corps from 1954 to 1956, he trained at the Hammersmith Hospital and then at St Mary’s Hospital where, while on the medical unit, he was one of the pioneers of the introduction of peritoneal dialysis for renal and severe cardiac failure.

In his early years as a consultant in south Buckinghamshire, he had a heavy clinical commitment with his three district general hospitals, High Wycombe, Amersham and Stoke Mandeville. Despite this, within two years he became the first district clinical tutor. At this time the profession was just realising that education should not cease with qualification and to maintain the best care for patients this must be a continuous process. Bruce soon found himself involved with many regional and national educational bodies. While a secretary of the National Association of Clinical Tutors (NACT), he arranged a joint meeting with representatives of the pharmaceutical houses at which he gave a paper which became the ‘code of practice’ recommended by the association and approved by the Central Council for Postgraduate Medical Education. In 1973, he was a member of the DHSS working party on the planning of postgraduate centres in new hospitals.

He was renowned for his attention to detail, high standards and refined clinical skills. Junior doctors were rewarded for their hard work and invariably commented on how much that they had learned while working for him. Patients and secretarial staff were proud that he was their consultant, knowing that he would look after them well. He was popular with colleagues and modest about his achievements.

Later he chaired the Oxford Regional Medical Advisory Committee and was the regional adviser for the Royal College of Physicians, president of the Chiltern Medical Society and then vice chairman of the Wycombe District Hospital Authority. He confessed that he did not enjoy the last appointment as he had found that the authority was dealing with the same problems that he had encountered when a member of the old Wycombe District Hospital management committee some 20 years previously. The wheel was being reinvented, but there was still not enough money to turn it.

He retired and moved to Cookham, Berkshire, where he was treasurer of the Friends of the Stanley Spencer Gallery. He enjoyed painting, golf, fly-fishing, country walking, gardening and visits to the small house he had in south Devon. As a student, Bruce expressed his view that women should not be admitted to the then male-dominated medical schools, but in 1953 he married a medical student from St Mary’s, Wendy née Jefferson, his daughter, Hilary, was also a St Mary’s graduate and he once admitted that his best registrar was a woman! He was survived by Wendy, Hilary, two sons (Nicholas and Roger) and seven grandchildren.

Wendy L Thomson

[Brit.med.J.,2010 340 1043]

(Volume XII, page web)

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