Intended for healthcare professionals


Joe Smith

BMJ 2017; 356 doi: (Published 24 January 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;356:j397
  1. Ingrid Torjesen
  1. London
  1. itorjesen{at}

On 10 October 1963, one of the most significant urological procedures in British political history took place. The patient was Harold Macmillan, then prime minister. The operation, a prostatectomy, gave him an excuse to resign with dignity rather than wait to be pushed out by the Profumo scandal.

The consultant surgeon was one of the UK’s most distinguished, Alec Badenoch, and he was assisted by a young Joe Smith. Smith would also go on to become one of the most influential urological surgeons in the country—a president of the British Association of Urological Surgeons, a founder of the department of urological surgery in Oxford, and president of the Medical Defence Union (MDU). At the MDU his often quoted advice was: “Be nice to your patients. Patients rarely sue doctors who are thoughtful and caring—and who communicate well with them.”

Despite being an “antisurgery” surgeon—if there was an option for not operating, he would recommend it—Smith went on to operate on many interesting patients. He once broke into a holiday with his wife to fly to Brazil to operate on a politician with a bladder tumour, and he …

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