Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations BMJ Confidential

Michael O’Donnell: Wants to rediscover altruism

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 15 October 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g6198


Michael O’Donnell is still fondly remembered for a job he left more than 30 years ago: he was editor of World Medicine, a magazine that nurtured talent and entertained readers as few medical publications ever have. Editors attract enemies, but nobody has a bad word to say about O’Donnell. He qualified in medicine at Cambridge and at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, practised as a GP in Surrey, and became a full time writer 12 years later, working in newspapers, magazine, radio, and television. He was elected to the General Medical Council in 1971, serving as “rebel in residence” (his words) and achieving some reforms, though too few to satisfy him. O’Donnell is 86.

What was your earliest ambition?

To be one of those romantic writers, actors, or poets who lived only in my imagination.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

My father, a GP in a Yorkshire colliery village, was the source of most of the knowledge that helped me survive 12 years in general practice. During the 1930s depression, when I was a schoolboy, I helped him load his car each day with tins of meat and veg and tureens of hot soup. To him the distinction between “social” and “medical” care was as meaningless as it still is to me.

What was the worst mistake in your career?

Treating myself for gastro-oesophageal reflux during a hectic week working in New York. Within 48 hours of returning to Heathrow I was in intensive care, …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription