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Wood, Paul Hamilton (1907–1962)

by Gaston Bauer

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Paul Hamilton Wood (1907-1962), cardiologist, was born on 16 August 1907 at Coonoor, India, third of four children of Richard Boardman Wood, civil servant, and his wife Geraldine, née Tomson. Paul was educated at Yardley Court Preparatory School, Kent, England, and, after his family migrated to Tasmania in 1920, at Launceston Church Grammar School. Following in the professional footsteps of his grandfather and great-grandfather, he enrolled in medicine at the University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1931; M.D., 1941). He excelled at sport, gaining a Blue for Rugby Union football and being selected for the combined Australian universities' team, and winning several awards for skiing. Academically, his fortunes were mixed: he passed surgery and obstetrics in his final-year examinations, but failed medicine. Although he was successful in the supplementary examination, he missed out on a hospital appointment in Melbourne. He went instead to Christchurch General Hospital, New Zealand.

In 1933 Wood returned to Britain to commence his specialist training. He qualified as a member (fellow 1940) of the Royal College of Physicians, London, and accepted a position at the Hospital for Consumption and Diseases of the Chest, Brompton. Next year he was appointed resident medical officer at the National Hospital for Diseases of the Heart. There he established a reputation based on his wide knowledge and exceptional clinical judgement. At the parish church, St Marylebone, on 29 December 1934 he married Elizabeth Josephine Guthrie. In 1935 he was recruited by Professor (Sir) Francis Fraser to join the staff of the recently established British Postgraduate Medical School at Hammersmith Hospital. Wood carried out clinical investigations of cardiac patients and taught medical students. From 1937 he was also a physician to outpatients at the National Hospital for Diseases of the Heart, where he worked with such outstanding cardiologists as (Sir) John Parkinson, Maurice Campbell, Evan Bedford and William Evans.

With the outbreak of World War II, Wood joined the Emergency Medical Service in 1940 and was attached to the 'effort syndrome' unit where he established that condition as a functional or psychiatric disorder. His findings and conclusions were the subject of his Goulstonian lecture to the R.C.P. in 1941. On 21 February 1942 he was commissioned in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Promoted temporary major in June and acting lieutenant colonel in August, he served in North Africa and Italy. He was mentioned in dispatches, appointed O.B.E. (1945) and elevated to the local rank of brigadier in December 1945.

After his demobilization in 1946, Wood threw his restless and limitless energies into the pursuit of investigative cardiology. Early in 1947 he began performing cardiac catheterizations at Hammersmith Hospital. He measured intravascular pressures and oxygen saturation in patients with congenital and valvular heart disease, providing a sound scientific basis for surgical correction. Dean of the Institute of Cardiology at the National Hospital for Diseases of the Heart from 1947, he was appointed director in 1950. He was also in charge of the cardiac department at the Brompton Hospital. During the war years he had written the first draft of his monumental textbook, Diseases of the Heart and Circulation (London, 1950). Largely based on personal experiences, and enriched by his work in the cardiac catheterization laboratory and operating theatre of Russell (Baron) Brock, it was an instant success.

Much sought after around the world as a lecturer and teacher in cardiology, Wood revisited Australia in 1951. He made a significant impact, even though his opinions of local cardiac practices were not entirely flattering. His somewhat scornful remarks were directed especially towards senior colleagues, who were not accustomed to having their diagnoses and opinions challenged. The younger generation of cardiologists remained his disciples to the last. In 1961, as Sir Arthur Sims Commonwealth travelling professor, he toured Canada.

Wood was the most stimulating and inspiring cardiologist in the English-speaking world during the middle of the twentieth century. He questioned existing concepts and attempted to base every aspect of clinical diagnosis and treatment on verifiable physiological facts. A 'pale, wiry man of ascetic appearance', he was intense, direct and occasionally sarcastic in medical discussions, but could be warm and charming to his close friends. He had a keen interest in gardening. Survived by his wife, and their two sons and a daughter, he died of myocardial infarction on 13 July 1962 in Middlesex Hospital, London.

Select Bibliography

  • Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London, vol 5 (Lond, 1968)
  • British Medical Journal, 28 July 1962, p 262
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 27 Oct 1962, p 683
  • British Heart Journal, 24, no 5, 1962, p 661
  • G. Bauer, 'Paul Wood Remembered', in On the Pulse, 8, no 2, June 1996, p 2
  • American Journal of Cardiology, 85, 1 Jan 2000, p 75.

Citation details

Gaston Bauer, 'Wood, Paul Hamilton (1907–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wood-paul-hamilton-12065/text21643, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 21 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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