Michael Bernard Matthews

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 01 October 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5151
  1. Philippa Matthews

Michael Bernard Matthews—variously known as Ginger, Mick, MBM, and Mike—took an egalitarian and inclusive approach to all he worked with. He was patient centred long before it was a phrase and was loved for his gentle humour, compassion, and skills in communication and clinical examination.

Mike was born to Charles and Gertrude Matthews in Broadstairs, Kent, the youngest of three boys. After attending Marlborough College he gained an exhibition to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, then upgraded to a scholarship in 1940. His clinical training was at St Thomas’ during the war, and there were frequent bombings, sometimes by buzz bombs (or doodlebugs). It was known that when the buzzing of the motor stopped, the bomb would then fall and explode on impact. On one occasion Mike and his colleagues were playing golf in an evacuated ward at the top of the hospital, chipping a ball from one end of the ward into an open fireplace at the other end. They heard a buzz bomb, which subsequently went quiet. After a few moments, there was an explosion. At this point Mike said that they should resume the game as the bomb had obviously missed the hospital. Immediately there was an almighty explosion and some of the ceiling collapsed. In dust and darkness a voice was heard to say: “And that was another of your brilliant diagnoses.”

Mike joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in Germany in 1947. He became a senior registrar in cardiology at St Thomas’ in 1950. This was where he met Mary Dendy, a nurse, and they married in 1952.

In 1954 he moved to Edinburgh to take up his consultancy post, initially at the Eastern General Hospital. That year he also became a lecturer in the Department of Medicine. Apart from a year as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Buffalo in the US in 1957, he spent the rest of his career at the Western in Edinburgh, with some years as head of the Department of Medicine.

As a doctor, Mike became known for a number of qualities, described and reiterated in many of the responses his family received shortly after his death—even though by then he had been retired for 33 years.

He was an inspiring teacher and mentor, and one focus of this was communication skills. He taught younger doctors how to put patients at ease and try to overcome hierarchies of the era. He was quoted several times in David Mendel’s book Proper Doctoring— for example, “Anxiety may prevent the patient from hearing what you say; Mike Matthews teaches that there is nothing so deafening as a hammering heart.”1

He was also excellent at teaching clinical skills—particularly history taking and examination—and many of those he taught described how they benefited from his rigour. He practised evidence based medicine long before it became part of the medical mantra. He challenged dogma and jargon. He was an early advocate of problem lists in case records, case summaries, and clinic letters, and supported the adoption of these through persistence and persuasion. He was also an early proponent of holding ward round discussions in a side room, to address clinical management and much of the teaching—thereby enabling full focus on, and greater clarity for, the patient when the ward was toured.

Mike was the author of the cardiology chapter in early editions of Macleod’s Clinical Examination (now in its 13th edition).2 He was not himself particularly involved in academia and research, but he was strongly supportive and admiring of those who pursued this. His strong interest in medical education led to a seminal publication on problem based learning in 1989.3 In a way typical of him he was embarrassed by how often it was cited, saying that many more knew far more than he did about the topic.

Mike had a happy family life with Mary, and they had four children, who were raised in an atmosphere of fun and freedom and with a delightful disregard for health and safety—and an abundance of delicious food and basset hounds. He had a great love of the Cairngorms and for decades rented a cottage there, Guislich. Mike and Mary bought a house in Tuscany, which brought much pleasure, but which lost its charm for him after Mary’s death in 1988.

Mike moved to Pencaitland with Monica Rushforth, and they enjoyed travelling together. In later years he enjoyed reading and walking and taught himself to cook with great success. He also always enjoyed a posh meal out. Mike returned to live in Edinburgh in 2006 after a stroke. Above all, he valued the company of family, friends—and dogs—of all ages. The feeling was mutual.

Mike leaves three daughters and a son; nine grandchildren and a great grandson.


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5151


  • Consultant cardiologist Western General Hospital, Edinburgh (b 1920; q Cambridge/St Thomas’ Hospital 1944; FRCP Ed, FRCP Lond, MD Camb), died peacefully at home from old age on 2 June 2015.


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