Obituaries

Jean Ginsburg

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.328.7451.1321 (Published 27 May 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:1321

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Clinician and researcher who pioneered new areas of women's health

In 1971 a friend of mine was referred to Jean Ginsburg for possible thyroid disease. She came away with a diagnosis of probable anxiety. The experience might have been embarrassing but wasn't because, typically, Jean Ginsburg took every patient seriously and did her best for them. She was equally interested in patients whose diabetes, infertility, or thyroid disorders had been misdiagnosed as neurosis. She helped patients with complex problems, such as hirsute women, or people of indeterminate gender.

Dr Ginsburg was a polymath. One of a small group of postwar women doctors with a serious interest in women's health, she was a founder member of the British Fertility Society and an active member of the Endocrine Society. In the 1960s her work on female subfertility put her at the forefront of gonadotrophin use, now crucial to in vitro fertilisation. She was also a clinical physiologist and an expert on the circulation, and had a wide interest in endocrinology. She got her male colleagues to take quantities of B vitamins so that they had hot flushes of memorable proportions; they loved her nevertheless.

She helped to establish the academic endocrinology department at the Royal Free Hospital and set up one of the first menopause clinics in Britain. Initially she was a physiologist, but after taking a research fellowship-cum-lectureship in obstetrics she became interested in women's health, which was to become her life's work.

Jean Ginsburg—she had no middle names—was born in 1926, the daughter of newly arrived Jewish political refugees from revolutionary Russia. Her father, Naum Ginsburg, a civil engineer, had sheltered Trotsky in his home in St Petersburg when he was on the run from Tsarist troops before the Russian Revolution. He was imprisoned for this. Her mother, Anya Bielenky, a pianist who had studied at the Conservatoire in St Petersburg, went with a purse full of money to a Bolshevik general she knew and got her husband freed. Later, they fled to London, arriving in 1921.


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Jean had a succession of scholarships. At Oxford she did her preclinical work and an honours degree in physiology. She was one of the first women to graduate from St Mary's Hospital Medical School, London. In 1954, two years after qualifying, she took a research fellowship in physiology and medicine at St Thomas's Hospital. Here she worked in the Sherrington School of Physiology under the famous Henry Barcroft; her main interest was the circulation and she was a pioneer of venous occlusion plethysmography. She and her colleagues would inject themselves, and medical student volunteers, with insulin to induce hypoglycaemia and, painfully, follow the effects on arterial blood flow.

In 1961 she became a research fellow and senior lecturer in the obstetrics department at Charing Cross Hospital, where she developed the interest in women's health that determined her future career. In 1966 she was appointed senior lecturer and consultant endocrinologist at the Royal Free Hospital, and she remained there, pursuing research to the end of her life. After she retired from clinical work she became an indefatigable medicolegal expert.

Jean Ginsburg was the author of many research papers and wrote one book, The Circulation in the Female from the Cradle to the Grave (1989) and co-edited two more, Drug Therapy in Reproductive Endocrinology (1995) and Sex Steroids and the Circulatory System (1987). Age did not wither her zest for research, nor pregnancy interrupt it—she monitored her circulation for research purposes during her third labour, stopping only to be delivered of her daughter.

In 1968 she was a passenger in a car when a lorry came out of a side turning and crashed into her, breaking both her arms and legs and causing other injuries. She spent three months in Paddington Green Hospital. Though she was warned that she would never walk again, she shuffled up and down stairs in a sitting position and eventually got back on her feet, though she always walked with a stick. At the end of her life, when she had kidney cancer, she would sit working in her hospital bed, despite the drain in her chest and blood transfusion in her arm.

After she retired from the NHS she continued in private practice, carried on with her research, and was invited to speak around the world. She was taken up by the media over the issue of pollution reducing male fertility (immensely enjoying the birth of a grandchild at the same time).

She loved music and was a fine pianist. A charitable foundation (www.jeanginsburg.com) has been established in her memory and will fund scholarships in music and medicine.

She leaves a husband, Jack Henry; two sons; and a daughter.

Jean Ginsburg, consultant endocrinologist Royal Free Hospital, London, 1966-86 (b London 1926, q Oxford/St Mary's Hospital, London, 1951; FRCP), d 8 April 2004.

[Caroline Richmond]

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