Obituary: Dr David Tunbridge

Photo by Richard Strittmatter

Ronald David Gregg Tunbridge was born on the 4thDecember 1941 and died on the 17thFebruary 2016 at the age of 74. He came to St Mary’s in 1962 after a short period as a Laboratory Technician in the Almroth Wright Institute. He joined an intake of thirty students from very diverse backgrounds entering their 1stMB year.  Some had come from an Arts or Classics background, some still needed to complete pre-medical science subjects and some mature students were changing career. From the outset it was evident he would question the perceived wisdom of his teachers, a quality that would lead him to make a major contribution to Medical Education later in his career. Following his 2ndMB he was offered a scholarship to study for a BSc in Physiology. However, he chose to head straight for the wards and clinical medicine. Even as a student he was ahead of his time in seeing the need for readily accessible, peer reviewed, evidence based medical information that could be used for the benefit of patents. The genesis of these aspirations can in part be found in the volume ‘St Mary’s – The History of a London Teaching Hospital’.

In 1965 the pathologists introduced the ‘research project’ as a compulsory part of the course. The students gathered in the Almroth Wright lecture theatre, greeted the announcement with an ‘angry silence’. But soon the anger changed to enthusiasm. The students were encouraged to present their projects to the class and were thus exposed to the atmosphere of a research society. One student, David Tunbridge, described his experiences in the Gazette in 1967. He had been outraged on hearing that so ‘unglamorous’ a group as the pathologists were permitted to encroach so profoundly on his clinical years. He and his fellow students found it impossible to think up suitable topics. Then he clerked a series of renal patients but failed to notice the patients suffered from peripheral neuropathy. Humiliated by his chief, Tunbridge wondered why he hadn’t picked it up. He found that very little had been published, which only whetted his appetite further and led him to write up the experience as a research project. He observed that with the introduction of the research project, the library changed from a reading to a reference room and original papers became less authoritative in his eyes: “The amount of double checked rubbish that is published was brought home, along with the warning that we were probably in the process of contributing to it.”

Following qualifying, he was destined to be a physician and it was no surprise that he was appointed to the Professorial Medical Unit at St Mary’s. He undertook many research studies, largely in the field of hypertension, completed his MD and published several important studies on factors affecting blood pressure such as levels of various hormones and identified a number of significant ethnic differences – perhaps a first foray into the now topical ‘personalized medicine’.

He was appointed Senior Lecturer in the Academic Medical Unit at the University of Manchester and Physician at the Manchester Royal Infirmary. There he continued his research interest in hypertension. He worked with many other colleagues from different specialties to ensure his patients had the best advice – again ahead of his time since Multidisciplinary Team decisions are the norm these days. His last publication was a scholarly review on the Management of Hypertension in Pregnancy published in 1994 in the Postgraduate Medical Journal.

He had a passionate interest in medical education, particularly for undergraduates, since he believed if you could instil the right attitudes at an early stage these would persist throughout their careers. Soon after arriving in Manchester he brought together a stellar cast of the medical hierarchy from Manchester to contribute to a book for medical students; Notes on Clinical Method, the second edition of which he part wrote and edited in 1982. He became Hospital Dean for Undergraduate Medical Education and led the implementation of a new medical curriculum in the late 1990s.

As an exceptionally gifted photographer even in the pre-digital era his camera was always close to hand to record the milestones of student life, both social and educational. Self-effacing and modest by nature, it was a typical of him that when congratulated on his father’s Knighthood for services to medicine he replied: ‘Don’t worry – it’s not hereditary.’ Those of us who had the privilege of knowing him over our student years, which for many was followed by the separation that our post qualification dispersal inevitably caused, have lost a true friend

Written by Dr Ian McNamara – Former GP Inverness and director of postgraduate GP education, North Scotland

With thanks to Mrs Eileen Tunbridge and Ms Laura Tunbridge

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