Obituary: Professor W. W. Mushin
Tuesday 26 January 1993
W. W. MUSHIN's achievements were prodigious and are best exemplified in the Department of Anaesthetics at the University of Wales, in Cardiff, which he created out of nothing. Under his leadership, from the early Fifties to the Seventies, that department became as well known in the world of anaesthesia as any in the United Kingdom. William Mushin attracted around himself a group of technical, scientific and clinical people who individually and collectively contributed to the science of their chosen discipline in a manner which few groups in the world have equalled and none has bettered.
Mushin's single-minded approach towards excellence first emerged when he was a prizewinner at the London Hospital Medical School whence he graduated in 1933. Then, after an interval, he was appointed as a consultant at a south London hospital, from where he was recruited by the first Professor of Anaesthetics at Oxford to be his First Assistant. It was at Oxford, under the tutelage of the late Sir Robert Macintosh, that Mushin honed his abilities as a teacher and together they wrote what became a classic, Physics for Anaesthetists (1946).
Mushin was appointed in 1947 as Director of Anaesthetics to the Cardiff group of hospitals. The World Health Organisation (WHO) had a course for trainee doctors in Copenhagen in 1952 and Mushin was one of several teachers from many different countries who worked there during the epidemic of anterior poliomyelitis. Some of his lifelong interest in mechanical devices to control ventilation of the lungs derived from that time. Research and a spirit of enquiry led him to produce another book, Automatic Ventilation of Lungs (1959) - known widely but not by him as 'the puffing bible' - whose fourth edition he was busy supervising during his last illness. His academic department in Cardiff was the second to be established in Britain and he was appointed professor in 1952.
Mushin was elected to the then Board of Faculty of Anaesthetists in the Royal College of Surgeons but by the time he demitted the office of Dean of that faculty some years later it had become of the Royal College. His experiences at that institution disillusioned him and, in 1967, he was one of the authors of a letter to the British Medical Journal which called for a separate college of anaesthetists. He died pleased that his hope was fulfilled, albeit long delayed, since the Royal College of Anaesthetists was granted its charter last year. Honours, medals, and visiting professorships were showered upon him all over the world but especially in the US, where he gave several eponymous lectures. He was honoured similarly in 1968 by the establishment of the Mushin Lecture by his staff.
Governments in the UK and abroad sought his advice; in particular, the Welsh Office, the Central Health Services Council of the Department of Health and the Committee on the Safety of Medicines had reason to be grateful for his wisdom. Associations and federations of anaesthetists did not attract him, but the genuine friendships of legions of contemporaries throughout the world and pupils who evolved into friends were treasured mutually. He had particular affinity with men and women from the Indian subcontinent, who revered him as a guru, but he gave counsel and hospitality at his home to everyone generously.
William Mushin was quite a private man but his painting with water-colours in his early days, his collection of old books and his fascination latterly with the new technology kept his encyclopaedic mind active to the last. He was a man of steel but he made many of his students proud to be anaesthetists.
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