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John Hawk: global ambassador for photodermatology

BMJ 2023; 380 doi: (Published 21 March 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;380:p662
  1. John Illman
  1. London, UK
  1. john{at}


Photo credit: Tim Hawk

John Hawk, a charismatic New Zealander, spoke with great affection about his mentor, Ian Magnus, who “spawned in the UK the whole new concept of clinical photobiology.” Magnus developed the skin irradiation monochromator. He was also the first, in 1960, to describe in the Lancet one of the major photobiological disorders, erythropoietic protoporphyria.

But Magnus, a notable eccentric, was undemonstrative and withdrawn. Hawk recalled him striding the corridor eyes down, whistling a classical tune, carrying a string bag in lieu of a briefcase. He was constantly at loggerheads with his professorial colleagues.

Such was his overwhelming shyness that Hawk, his trusted lieutenant, acted as a go-between between him and the staff, which was, said Hawk, “something of a diplomatic challenge.” Magnus also insisted that Hawk stood in for him in radio or TV interviews and even some lectures.

Hawk could not have had a better apprenticeship for the role he was to assume as a global ambassador for photodermatology. He and Magnus, his “best boss,” were polar opposites, but got on extremely well. Many doctors shy away from the camera and the big stage. Hawk, later professor of dermatological photobiology at the St John’s Institute of Dermatology, London, had no such inhibitions

A great communicator, he loved the limelight—especially highlighting the way a very small subspecialty had been transformed into something significantly bigger. A proud moment for Hawk was when his unit became a department.


Describing Hawk as a “giant,” Henry Lim, …

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