Dr Richard Jack
Quintessential 'good doctor'
Monday 07 August 2006
Richard Douglas Jack, doctor: born Vancouver, British Columbia 10 December 1936; MD 1962; Medical Director, Heatherwood and Wexham Park NHS Hospital Trust 2001-05; married 1959 Adrienne Emelia (two sons, one daughter); died Slough, Berkshire 9 July 2006.
Raising standards in anaesthesia, not just in Britain but worldwide, was Richard Jack's life work. He was an outstanding teacher and a good linguist whose special contribution was to initiate and carry through projects to improve anaesthetic training and introduce British hospital management concepts to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
His contribution began in Poland before the Wall came down. From 1991 he organised annual refresher courses in anaesthesiology in Moscow and St Petersburg and also in the the Baltic states - Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. He trained anaesthetists in Yekaterinburg in the Urals region and in Bulgaria and Hungary.
With Foreign Office support, he initiated contacts with Belarussian hospital managers at a three-day meeting in Minsk in 1994, which led to visits by Belarussian managers to UK hospitals. Dr Keith Thomson, a colleague who was involved with Jack in this work and now helps to carry it on, says that Jack's lively lectures and genial presence were a big factor in the success of an initiative which was very much his idea.
Jack once confided to Thomson that he felt that perhaps his contribution to humanity would lie in having persuaded the medical profession in the former Soviet Union countries to increase the obligatory training time in anaesthesia from one to two years. (In Britain the training period is roughly seven years).
This work was the culmination of a global teaching career. In the 1980s Jack was an examiner for the European Academy of Anesthesiology - he worked in French, Swedish and German. He became visiting professor at Harvard and Columbia universities; he lectured in India, Sri Lanka, Africa and Australia.
In 2001 he became Medical Director at Heatherwood and Wexham Park NHS Hospital Trust at a stressful time for the Health Service. His own health was already failing but he battled valiantly with the legal and financial problems which inevitably occur in such a job. He was probably glad to retire in 2005 so that he could spend more time in Normandy. Sadly the time alloted was short - little more than a year. He died in the hospital where he had spent so much of his working life.
Richard Douglas Jack was born in British Columbia in 1936. He had Scottish blood on his father's side and Australian on his mother's. At school he enjoyed learning foreign languages and eventually came to be proficient in four - Swedish, Russian, French and German. He was athletic too - swimming breaststroke for Canada in the Empire Games in Vancouver in 1954 and in the 1955 Pan American Games in Mexico. (Extraordinarily, he had managed to compete at this high level with an undiagnosed hole-in-the-heart, which was not rectified until he was in his sixties).
He qualified at the Magill University medical school in Montreal, but soon found the inequalities in care inherent in North American medicine unacceptable. So in 1968 he - and Adrienne, the stylish girl from Seattle he had married in 1959 - migrated to Britain, where he worked under Professor Gordon Robson at the Hammersmith Hospital and then in 1972 made his final move to Wexham Park as a consultant. He never regretted his decision to opt for public medicine; he was committed to serving a free and accessible health service - whatever its limitations.
He lived happily and sociably in East Sheen in west London. He had broad interests outside medicine: he loved cooking, the theatre and music - where his taste was eclectic, ranging from country and western to atonal operas. He was immensely proud of his two sons, Richard and Ian, and his daughter, Emma. He was the quintessential "good doctor" - the man who chooses to help all the sick, and to teach others to do so effectively. Unlike many highly intelligent people he was modest, accessible, unassuming - qualities which were the basis of his remarkable ability to encourage and inspire (He was, for example, deeply influential in my own daughter's decision to become a doctor).
It was typical that when he left his post as Medical Director at Wexham Park he had leaving parties for colleagues at every level of the hospital work-chain. He was, as one of his colleagues put it, "a big human being" as well as a good doctor.
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