The Madras College Archive


Former Pupil Biographies

Professor Donald MacLeod Douglas, MBE MS, CHM, FRCS, FRCSED, FRSE (1911-1993)

Professor of surgery at St Andrews University 1951-1976, surgeon to the Queen, 1965-1976. He was knighted in 1972.

He was born in St Andrews on 28 Jun 1911. He served with the Royal Army Medical Corps with the 8th Army in the  Middle East, where he was awarded his MBE in 1943, reaching the rank of Lt Col.

Appointed the first full time professor of surgery at St Andrews University Medical School in Dundee, Donald Douglas was one of the post war surgeons who transformed university surgery in Britain. A natural surgeon, he was skilful and courageous, yet always relaxed while operating - the time that his assistants found best to ask a favour. Though a committed general surgeon, he pioneered his special interest in cardiovascular surgery while supporting the introduction of new surgical specialities. His analytical mind, which quickly unravelled a problem, made him a gifted teacher (he excelled at formal lectures) and a dedicated inquirer. His initial research in gastrointestinal physiology and shock and the use of radioisotopes in surgical research was followed by a deep interest in factors influencing wound healing, about which he wrote extensively.

His realisation that it was people who were the source of wound infections stimulated work on operating theatre procedure and led to the design of ideal surgical facilities in Dundee's new teaching hospital at Ninewells, and the use of trousers by his female theatre staff.

Donald was active in health service planning and, as president of various organisations, in national and international surgical affairs. This brought him many honours; his honorary DSc from St Andrews University gave him greatest pleasure. He sought relaxation in his home and garden and was devastated when his daughter Sheena, then a house surgeon, was killed while driving home. He loved the Scottish countryside, and joining him in his evening walk with his gundogs was a necessary part of an external examiner's duties.
Formidable, determined, and decisive yet ever in control on committees, Donald somehow always managed to get his view accepted as the only rational way forward, enabling him to effect change. But he also could resist change: his choice of house surgeon, based on "top academic, top rugby player, top girl" survived the age of computer matching. But he was himself a top academic, a rugby blue, and married a top girl, Diana.

He died on 28 Jan 1993, survived his wife, his two sons Ian and Neil and one daughter, Kate; there was one further daughter, deceased.

Sir Donald’s family includes Professor Sir Neil Douglas, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and Sir Donald’s daughter, Kate Douglas, is married to Professor Jimmy Hutchison, a Member of RCSEd Council.

He was President of The Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland in 1964, whose annual scientific meeting was held in St Andrews.