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Biographical entry Taffinder, Nicholas James (1965 - 2006)

MRCS and FRCS 1993; MB BChir Cambridge 1990; MS; LRCP 1993.

2 April 1965
25 November 2006
Colorectal surgeon


Nick Taffinder was widely considered to be one of the brightest and most able young consultants when, at the age of 39, he was diagnosed with metastatic malignancy, from which he died two years later. He showed academic talent as a schoolboy, being a scholar at King’s College, Taunton, from where he won an exhibition to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. His clinical training was undertaken at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, where he won the Sutton Sams prize in obstetrics and gynaecology.

Graduating in 1990, his first surgical house officer post was on the rectal firm and he retained this early interest in coloproctology throughout his career. Subsequent SHO jobs were in Southampton and Portsmouth, where he spent six months on the intensive care unit, before being appointed a specialist registrar to the training rotation of St Mary’s Hospital, London. After a year on the academic surgical unit, he was seconded to Paris for a year, where he worked as a registrar in a world-renowned laparoscopic centre with Gérard Georges Champault and where he learned advanced laparoscopic skills. Returning to St Mary’s he became a research fellow to Ara Darzi (later Lord Darzi), where he studied the quantification of manual dexterity in laparoscopic surgery, the effects of sleep deprivation on surgical dexterity and the impact of virtual reality on surgical training. His thesis on this subject was accepted for the MS degree and the work gained him two international prizes, one in the UK and one in the USA, as well as many publications.

In the year 2000 he was awarded two travelling scholarships, both to European centres, to further enhance his laparoscopic skills and the following year he completed his colorectal training with an appointment as RSO at St Mark’s and Northwick Park hospitals. He was then appointed consultant colorectal surgeon to William Harvey Hospital, Ashford, where he practiced and taught advanced laparoscopic surgery until his untimely death.

Nick Taffinder contributed widely to surgery outside of clinical activity. He continued to publish regularly after his consultant appointment, his last paper appearing in print after his death. At the College, he taught on the care of the critically ill surgical patient course (CCRISP) and also trained the faculty for this course, a reflection of his own early experience in intensive care medicine. He was a faculty member on numerous laparoscopic courses, both basic and advanced. He was a council member of the section of surgery of the Royal Society of Medicine and of the Association of Endoscopic Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland. He was in constant demand as a lecturer at home and abroad.

In private life he was equally talented. His first love was his family, Jane his wife and four children, Jacques, Louis, Max and Jessica. But outside of family life he was an enthusiastic pilot, a good games player (tennis and squash), a snowboarder, paraglider and oarsman, to say nothing of his ability as a conjurer. He was universally popular.

In early 2004 he was diagnosed with malignant fibrohistiocytoma of the pelvis with lung metastases. He underwent multiple operations, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Throughout, he showed truly remarkable fortitude and wrote a moving personal view in the British Medical Journal (2005, 331, 463) of how he diagnosed a rectal cancer in a male nurse of his own age at four o’clock in the morning while he himself was an in-patient awaiting his third operation. Despite returning to work between operations and treatments his disease pursued a relentless course and deprived the profession of a much loved and greatly talented colleague before his full potential could be realised.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 2007, 334, 321].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England