Intended for healthcare professionals


Clare Marx: principled orthopaedic surgeon and pioneering leader

BMJ 2022; 379 doi: (Published 08 December 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;379:o2972
  1. John Illman
  1. London, UK
  1. john{at}

Clare Marx first showed an interest in patients in her local emergency department as a 5 year old with a cut finger. She was intrigued by all the injuries on display. “Instead of sitting there like a wimpish child, I went round the waiting room asking everyone what was wrong with them,” she recalled.

She later maintained that being able to talk to patients was one of the three qualities of a successful surgeon. (The other two: intelligence and good hands.) Marx was speaking as the first woman to have been president of the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS), and the first woman to chair the General Medical Council and the British Orthopaedic Association.

She also attributed great importance to touch and the symbolic importance of taking a pulse, as depicted in Picasso’s painting of a doctor with his hand on a patient’s wrist as a nun and child look on.

Describing the picture, Science and Charity (1897), as her favourite, she explained in Country Life, “For me, it brings into focus the importance of physical contact in the doctor-patient relationship—the simple act of feeling a pulse gives human contact that patients understand and accept and from which they can derive reassurance and comfort.

“For clinicians, this …

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