Philip Henry Nicholls Wood

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 14 July 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b2851
  1. Allan St J Dixon,
  2. Beatrix Milburn,
  3. Julia K Wood

    Philip Henry Nicholls Wood was a unique figure in the history of British rheumatic disease epidemiology. His insights into professional rheumatology initiated large changes and he made a major contribution to improving the situation of disabled people. Perhaps most significantly, he revised the international classification of disease through his work for the World Health Organization, originating a new concept of disablement and changing the way of thinking about disease and its consequences for the individual and for society.

    Born in Cardiff on 23 October 1928 and educated at Churcher’s College, Petersfield, Philip became a medical student at Sheffield University in 1946. He completed only his first year as other interests, including amateur dramatics, had taken preference to his studies. He was then “de-reserved” and spent his two years’ national service with the Royal Army Medical Corps as a medical hygienist and later as chief clerk at the Military Hospital in York. It was to this period that he attributed the birth of his interest in public health.

    After this he applied to every medical school in the country but was turned down by all except St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical College. He qualified from there in 1955. After a series of significant junior hospital jobs, he won a scholarship and moved to the Royal Postgraduate Medical School’s rheumatology department, where he studied the pharmacology of aspirin. He made noteworthy discoveries and developed his compassion for patients with rheumatic diseases.

    While still a student, Philip met Cherry Charlish, who was teaching arts and crafts at a social priority school in north London. They shared a love for literature, music, painting, and political interests, and married in 1952. Philip’s considerable intellectual abilities were recognised by his boss and lasting friend, the rheumatologist Allan Dixon. In 1963, Allan encouraged Philip to take up the …

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