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Biographical entry Boyd, Alexander Michael (1905 - 1973)

MRCS 1929; FRCS 1931; MB BS London 1929; Hon MSc Manchester 1950; LRCP 1929.

5 March 1905
7 April 1973
Anatomist, General surgeon and Vascular surgeon


Alexander Michael Boyd was born on 5 March 1905 and went to school at Haileybury. Even at school team games do not seem to have interested him, but he early developed a liking for shooting and fishing, which harmonized with his somewhat Victorian upbringing at home. His life membership of the MCC meant little to him, but much to the friends who were given his tickets to Lord's.

He came to St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College and soon distinguished himself by winning the Foster Prize in Anatomy in 1926, and was proxime accessit for the Harvey Prize in Physiology. He qualified in 1929 and took the FRCS in 1931, after which he served for two years as a demonstrator of anatomy under Professor H H Woollard and did some useful research into the musculature and innervation of the ureter.

In 1934 he joined the Surgical Professorial Unit as a chief assistant, and his remarkable memory for patients' names and their histories gave an early indication of his flair for clinical work. At first he devoted special attention to a study of thyroid tumours and carcinoma of the breast, but from 1936 onwards he began to lay the foundations for his investigations into the pathology and treatment of peripheral vascular disease, which became the dominant interest of his whole future career. Before the second world war interrupted his programme for a time, his skilful use of arteriography had enabled him to classify the varieties of obliterative arteritis according to the particular level at which the disease occurred in the arterial tree.

Boyd served in the Emergency Medical Service for the first year of the war, and then in the RAMC both at home and in the Middle East ending up as Lieutenant-Colonel in charge of the Surgical Division of the 63rd General Hospital in Cairo, where he made a considerable impression both professionally and socially, and became an examiner in surgery in the Fuad I University.

On returning to St Bartholomew's he generously undertook the direction of the Anatomy Department which was still evacuated to Cambridge and temporarily without a professor, and his influence was much appreciated not only by the Bart's students but even more by the staff of the host department of anatomy. This interlude lasted for six months, and he then returned to the hospital as assistant director of the surgical professorial unit and was appointed by the University as Reader in Surgery, though he was appointed to the Chair of Surgery in Manchester in 1946 before the Readership was due to commence.

In Manchester he inherited the department in which Professor E D Telford had established such a reputation for vascular surgery, and this Boyd proceeded to develop still further with his characteristic energy and enthusiasm. He greatly appreciated the collaboration with the basic science departments of the University, but his outstanding contribution stemmed from the careful follow-up of all the patients treated under his direction. He was thus enabled to make an accurate assessment of the value of certain procedures employed in the treatment of well-defined clinical conditions, and he placed greater reliance on such clinical research than upon animal experiments. He thus became convinced of the value of well-tried methods of treatment, and rather sceptical of the innovations introduced by some other surgeons with similar interests. His pre-eminence in his specialty was attested by his election as President of the International College of Angiology, and as senior editor of the journals Angiology and Vascular surgery.

Boyd was a superb teacher both at the bedside and in the lecture theatre, and students flocked to listen to his clear discourses based upon anatomy, physiology, pathology and physical signs, interspersed with amusing anecdotes which fixed facts in their minds. He surprised some of his colleagues by insisting on undertaking his full share of the emergency work of his Unit, and this he did because of the unique opportunities thus afforded for the demonstra┬Čtion of physical signs.

It was unfortunate that for his last thirty years he suffered increasing disability from ankylosing spondylitis and arthritis, which limited his ability to take his proper part in meetings of surgical societies, and latterly interfered even with his work at home. It also prevented him from following his great interest in gardening, and in growing flowers and vegetables for competitions at horticultural shows, which gave him much enjoyment.

He retired from the Chair of Surgery in 1970 and after further gradual deterioration in health he died, aged 68, on 7 April 1973. He was unmarried.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 10 April 1973; Brit med J 1973, 2, 183 and 311].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England