From Northern Lights to Old Aberdeen

Thursday, 06 December 2012

From 1900 to 2100

Medico-Chirurgical Hall

Dr Pauline Wilson - Consultant Physician, Gilbert Bain Hospital, Shetland


The Society met on 6th December 2012 in the Society Hall, Foresterhill

The President, Dr Ken McHardy presided.

The President introduced Dr Kenny Muir who had provided an exhibition of some of his photographs of Northern Scotland, especially featuring images of the Aurora Borealis.

He then introduced the speaker, Dr Pauline Wilson, Consultant Physician at the Gilbert Bain Hospital in Lerwick, Shetland. Her talk was entitled "From Northern Lights to Old Aberdeen".

Before handing over to Dr Wilson, the President described his part in arranging Dr Wilson's specialist training so as to equip her for working in a 'remote and rural' environment whilst also satisfying the authorities that her training was acceptable.

Dr Wilson started her talk with a photograph of the Aurora taken from her house in Shetland. She talked about Shetland, mentioning its 22,000 population, 200,000 puffins, 100 islands (15 inhabited) and its remoteness - 190 miles from both Bergen and Aberdeen. She mentioned its history and the important archeological remains, well preserved because of the lack of trees having forced buildings to be of stone.

As for medicine, she described the 30% mortality from smallpox in the 17th and 18th centuries and the work of John Willamson, a weaver called ' Johnnie Notions' who developed a successful inoculation. The Gilbert Bain hospital started in 1901 with 9 beds, was enlarged in 1912 to cope with herring fishing workers and redeveloped in 1961.

Dr Wilson talked about her own training. She started with a biochemistry degree at Aberdeen University after which she had to decide between postgraduate biochemistry or transferring to medicine. Her decision was strongly influenced by sitting in on one of Professor Brunt's medical clinics in Shetland and she mentioned other members of the Society who had influenced her training, including Professor Webster at his Orkney Clinic. She went on to talk in general terms about remote and rural medicine, mentioning the 20% of the Scottish population so designated, the 6 hospitals involved and the difficulties especially with recruitment and retention of staff. Shetland formally had just one consultant, a surgeon, but now has 3 surgeons, 3 physicians, 3 anaesthetists and one community psychiatrist, supported by 4 trainees and 11 general practices.

Turning to more specific medical issues, Dr Wilson described some clinical cases as a means of illustrating some of the issues involved in remote and rural medicine. She mentioned the low volume but high demands of cases and the fact that most patients or some of their families are known personally to the medical staff. Critically ill patients can be transferred south much more easily than previously by means of a good dedicated air transport or by emergency helicopter. Less critically ill patients can create more difficult challenges and would benefit from better developed networks, which she and her colleagues are working on.

Dr Wilson answered several questions, before the President thanked her for her illuminating and insightful talk.

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