Lives of the fellows

Desmond Edward Sharland

b.13 April 1929 d.12 August 2016
BSc Lond(1950) MB BS(1953) MRCS LRCP(1953) DObst RCOG(1955) MRCP(1960) MD(1967) FRCP(1975)

Desmond Edward Sharland was a consultant in geriatric medicine at the Whittington Hospital, London, and a clinical teacher of anatomy at University College London. He was born in London. His father, Edward Harry Sharland, was a salesman for Riggs Sheet and his mother, Beatrice Sharland, was a housewife. He was educated at Gunnersbury Grammar School and, after completing his secondary education, he went to the London Hospital Medical College in 1947. While at medical school he obtained a BSc in anatomy and this led to his interest in teaching anatomy, which he pursued throughout his working life and after retirement from clinical practice.

After qualifying in 1953, he worked at various London hospitals until 1960, when he joined the cardiac department at Central Middlesex Hospital as a research fellow. During this period, he met his first wife Edna at a dance and married her at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Kilburn in 1956. Edna sadly died of cancer in 1974.

As a research fellow, he was part of a team looking at the value of a low-fat diet in a group of men with coronary artery disease who had survived a first myocardial infarction and demonstrated that, despite lowering the blood cholesterol and a fall in body-weight, it did not lead to any significant fall in relapse rate. This data was published in the British Medical Journal in 1964 (‘Ability of men to return to work after cardiac infarction’ Br Med J. 1964 Sep 19;2[5411]:718-20).

In 1960 he took up the post of senior registrar in geriatrics at the Whittington Hospital with Norman Exton-Smith [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.160], one of the early pioneers of geriatric medicine. Within a year, he was appointed as a consultant physician in geriatric medicine when Norman Exton-Smith moved to University College London to replace Lord Amulree [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.12].

As a consultant he single-handedly looked after five acute/rehabilitation wards on the acute hospital site and over 75 long stay/continuing care patients on three community sites until 1980. He used to visit local authority homes and, while at the Whittington, appointed a health care visitor for the elderly – she would visit frail elderly people who had difficulty coming to clinics, also helping prevent them being re-admitted to hospital.

Despite his heavy clinical workload, he completed his thesis and obtained an MD in 1967. He continued to pursue clinical research and registered to complete a PhD on alkaline phosphatase isoenzymes in older people. This work led to publications in the British Medical Journal in 1978 (‘Alkaline phosphatase: changes in serum levels after a fracture’ Br Med J. 1978 Mar 11;1[6113]:620) and Age and Ageing in 1975 (‘Clinical value of serum alkaline phosphatase isoenzyme estimations in the elderly’ Age Ageing. 1975 Feb;4[1]:1-7). His other significant work was to show that the ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate) in normal older people had a much wider range than younger persons.

In addition to being a caring and compassionate physician, he pursued his love for teaching, particularly anatomy. Between 1978 and 1993, he was an examiner in anatomy for the Royal College of Surgeons. Locally he was director of the Whittington Hospital academic centre for six years between 1967 and 1973, and during this period started the primary FRCS course, which later evolved into a highly successful part 1 MRCP course. His other achievements while director of the academic centre included the establishment of study days for hospital pharmacists, ECG technicians and geriatric social workers. He was very humble man who treated all equally, whether they were cleaners, porters or consultants.

After his retirement he continued to teach anatomy to undergraduates and postgraduates, including surgeons, ophthalmologists, dentists and osteopaths. He continued to pursue teaching of anatomy as a visiting teacher at Melbourne University Medical School, Australia, during his visits to see his daughter.

He had a passion for ballroom dancing and cruising, and it was while he was on a cruise that he met his second wife, Dulcie, whom he married in 1986. He continued to pursue his interest in dancing until he developed Alzheimer’s.

He always walked briskly and used stairs instead of lifts to remain fit – when he visited the Royal Free Hospital to teach anatomy he insisted that students walk up the stairs with him.

Desmond was a kind and very religious man, but he did not discuss his religious views or try to force them on others. He was always polite and respectful to all colleagues, even when their opinions about how services should develop were very different from his own.

Desmond had a great sense of humour. At his funeral, his son-in-law wrote a eulogy in which he stated that, whenever he visited from Australia, Desmond would wake him up in the morning with a cup of tea in the same battered mug that had picture of the Pope on it, even though he knew his son-in-law was an atheist. According to his son-in-law, Desmond would appreciate finishing this with quote from his favourite comedian, Dave Allen, who always ended his show with, ‘…thank you and may God go with you’.

He died peacefully in hospital and was survived by two children (his son, Stephen, and daughter, Sarah), two granddaughters, two stepsons, one stepdaughter and several step grandchildren.

Gurcharan Rai

[BMJ 2016 355 5465 – accessed 20 March 2017]

(Volume XII, page web)

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