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Biographical entry Hill, Ian Macdonald (1919 - 2007)

MRCS 1942; FRCS 1944; MB BS London 1942; MS 1945; LRCP 1942, FRCS 1944.

8 June 1919
22 September 2007
Cardiothoracic surgeon


Ian Hill was a consultant cardiothoracic surgeon at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. He was born on 8 June 1919. When he was only five he developed diphtheria and was admitted to an isolation hospital for many weeks. There he was allowed no visits from his family and witnessed at close quarters the frequently unsuccessful attempts of surgeons to save the lives of other children with that terrible disease. This dreadful experience gave him the emotional drive to overcome disease and save lives, although later he maintained that he went into medicine because it was his father Tom’s own unfulfilled wish: indeed their house in Palmers Green was chosen to be near the railway that would eventually take him to Bart’s. His mother Annie was a gifted teacher and helped him with his homework, passing on to him the skills of patient and supportive clarity he used in his own teaching.

He was educated at the Stationers’ Company School and St Bartholomew’s Hospital, where he had a brilliant career as a student, qualifying with honours in 1942. He was house surgeon to (later Sir) James Paterson Ross, whose testimonial stated “his academic record has been one of rapid and uninterrupted success, winning most for the prizes for which he was eligible. He is honourable, forthright, diligent and utterly trustworthy. He absorbs knowledge readily and applies theory to practice with good judgement and effect. He is a skilful, safe, and resourceful operator who can win the confidence of his patients, his colleagues and his students”.

After serving as a demonstrator of anatomy he married Agnes Paice in 1944, having met her when both their hospitals had been evacuated. He joined the RAF medical branch in 1945 and was wing commander in command of the surgical division of No 1 RAF Hospital. He then specialized in cardiothoracic surgery, becoming senior registrar to Russell Brock at Guy’s Hospital in 1947, where he carried out experimental work on cardiopulmonary bypass and became surgical chief assistant at the Brompton Hospital.

He returned to St Bartholomew’s as consultant surgeon in 1950 at the early age of 31, as second in command to Oswald Tubbs, where he continued to build up its cardiothoracic unit. He was a skilled operator who had ‘green fingers’. He was often described by his junior staff as a one-man band, for, apart from his operative ability he typed his own operation notes and wrote summaries of the patient after each operation. Surprisingly these records were never analysed and sadly they were destroyed after his death: they would have made a fascinating contribution to cardiothoracic archive material. He cared deeply about the training of his young doctors and for eight years served as sub-dean of the medical college (from 1964 to 1972). He was prodigiously well organised, kept meticulous records and was obsessed by time. He was both scrupulously logical and persistent in trying to solve problems.

For several years he owned a vintage Rolls Royce car, which he maintained himself, having taken a course on its maintenance. When his junior staff telephoned his home for advice they were frequently told by his wife “I’ll get him from under his car!”
Ian’s 40 years as a consultant surgeon were a period of explosive development in cardiothoracic surgery, but despite his brilliant mind and ability he wrote very little, and he made no definitive contribution to his specialty. He had a poor relationship with Oswald Tubbs, his senior consultant, who was disappointed in his subsequent career and thought that he had not fulfilled the potential implied in Ross’s glowing testimonial. He was a cutting surgeon rather than a writing surgeon and was, as many have said, an enigma.

After he retired he continued to serve on the board of governors of St Bartholomew’s. Ian retired with Agnes to Fernham in 1984, where he lived the life he had always dreamed of in the countryside, creating his garden, running a prodigiously productive allotment, and indulging his fascination for fine engineering, old clocks, the fine arts, good food and wine. He upset his allotment neighbours by giving away much of his produce in competition to the many who sold for profit. Despite being an agnostic, he served as clerk to the parish council. Predeceased by his wife, he died on 22 September 2007 leaving three sons and a daughter, Alison, who is a general practitioner in London.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 2008 336 163].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England