From Both Ends of the Stethoscope: Memories of Country Doctors and Rural Patients

Thursday, 04 April 2013

From 1900 to 2100

Medico-Chirurgical Hall

Dr David Northcroft - Retired Educationalist, Aberdeen


Minute of meeting of the Society held on 4th April 2013 in the Society Hall, Foresterhill. Dr Ken McHardy presided.

The President started by telling members of a forthcoming visit by a student from the London School of Economics who wished to access our McGrigor papers.

He then introduced the speaker, Dr David Northcroft, retired educationalist, who had been the President’s English teacher at Aberdeen Grammar School. His talk was entitled From Both Ends of the Stethescope: Memories of Country Doctors and Rural Patients

Dr Northcroft had toured around Grampian with a tape recorder, asking people about their memories, especially of their first 25 years. He had interviewed about 350 people and has published the first volume of Grampian Lives which records memories relating to the first half of the 20th century. The second volume will cover the second half of the century.

His first interviewee had been Mr James Michie who was educated at Auchenblae, and became Director of Education and his most recent was Mr Joel Sandé, father of Emeli Sandé, a popular singer who had lived in Alford.

In the first half of the 20th century, the land was very important, worked by horses and physical labour and although farming is still important, it is less physical. Fishing was also important, less so now. There was little movement of people, lives were physical and largely similar, so there was no envy but much respect, honesty and acceptance.

As for medical stories, Dr Northcroft related stories of several patients, including Mr John Goodbrand who spend 18 months in hospital in Aberdeen with his wife traveling from Glenlivet every week to visit him; Sybil Copland who had a tonsillectomy on the kitchen table; Mabel Cowe who nearly drowned aged 3 and who heard the doctor predicting that she would die.

Of the ca 350 people interviewed, 6 were country doctors and 4 were nurses. One health visitor recalled epidemics of the usual childhood illnesses such as diphtheria and polio but also a typhoid outbreak in 1948 in Buckie.

Dr Northcroft talked about Dr Sellars who was a doctor for many years in Aberlour. Transport had initially been by horse then motor cycle then car but often in winter she had to walk around her patients. Payment was often in kind and poor patients were often not charged; drugs were few, so the main therapy was personality. Dr Dorothy Forth had been Dr Sellars’ assistant and was one of Dr Northcroft’s interviewees.

Drawing conclusions from his interviews, Dr Northcroft noted how much the medical and nursing professions have changed, from an old fashioned paternalistic approach which bred trust and dependency, but which was no longer feasible, to a less personal system. He concluded by showing photographs of two members of the Society, The President (at school) and Dr Pierre Fouin (at his graduation).

The President proposed the vote of thanks to Dr Northcroft for his entertaining and insightful talk on earlier days of our profession and our patients.

← back to listings