Professor Jim Petrie

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The Independent Online

James Colquhoun Petrie, pharmacologist: born Aberdeen 18 September 1941; Senior Lecturer in Clinical Pharmacology, Aberdeen University 1971-81, Reader 1981-85, Professor 1985-2001, Head of Department 1994-2001; CBE 1996; President, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh 1997-2001; FRSE 2000; married 1964 Dr Xanthe Forbes (two sons, two daughters); died Aberdeen 31 August 2001.

Jim Petrie was just 29 years old when he became a Senior Lecturer in Clinical Pharmacology and Honorary Consultant Physician at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary in 1970. He was appointed Professor of Clinical Pharmacology in 1985 and became Head of Department in 1994. His main academic interest was in clinical pharmacology and his academic work led to over 200 peer-reviewed publications and 11 textbooks.

This led to his appointment in 1999 as Vice-Chairman of the UK Committee on Safety of Medicines and to membership of the World Health Organisation Expert Advisory Panel on drug policies and management. Beyond his special interest, he was a non-executive director of Grampian Health Board, a member of the General Medical Council and a member of several national committees of the NHS in Scotland.

Petrie played a leading role in the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE), to which he was devoted. As befitted his relentless quest for high quality in medicine (and in everything else), he was the College Assessor from 1992 to 1998, a post focusing on the definition and measurement of clinical standards. He was elected President of the College in 1998 and his final illness first manifested itself just after his presidency ended in March this year.

As President, he used his boundless energy to maintain and improve the college itself, taking an interest in everything and believing everything could be improved. He also recognised the importance of the Royal Colleges' working together and was a strong supporter of the Federation of Medical Royal Colleges in the UK (Edinburgh, Glasgow and London) and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges.

In 1993, Petrie founded and became the Chairman of the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (Sign). He was committed to clinical guidelines as an important means of improving standards of medical practice, but he realised that many guidelines were based more on opinion than on evidence. Accordingly, Sign developed a methodology for assessing the quality of evidence and for making this explicit in the guidelines it produced.

Furthermore, Petrie recognised the importance of a broad professional approach to guideline production leading to the inclusion of doctors, nurses, members of the professions allied to medicine and patients in the teams producing guidelines. Petrie was chair of expert groups advising on best practice in guideline development for the Council of Europe and WHO and, at the time of his death, Sign had produced 53 guidelines and had achieved international recognition.

Jim Petrie was born in Aberdeen in 1941, received his schooling in Geneva, and later at Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen, and studied Medicine at Aberdeen University, qualifying in 1964. He became a physician of the highest calibre, with endless energy, a piercing analytical mind and a determination to achieve results and everything was done at pace. His ability to "cut to the chase" was manifest and helped by an astonishing memory. His intellectual calibre could appear daunting and a debate with Petrie required full concentration. He demanded much of his colleagues, had an ability to identify and nurture talent and was an outstanding mentor.

He was not a dry or wholly cerebral man. His roots in, and affinity for, the north-east of Scotland were obvious, his enjoyment of a simple joke was not constrained by his intellect and he was good company in social situations. Always athletic, he had played hockey for Aberdeen University, earned a full Blue for skiing and remained an excellent skier all his life. He was in 1976 a co-founder and chairman of the Lecht Ski Company in Upper Donside.

Underlying everything, he was a family man. His closeness to Xanthe, his wife, was obvious, as was his pride in his four children (all doctors) and his six grandchildren. Petrie's death is a severe loss to British medicine. His achievements, however, will continue to benefit his profession and the patients it serves.

Niall D. C. Finlayson