Douglas J Guthrie

ENT surgeon, Medical Historian & Philanthropist

Douglas Guthrie, a minister’s son from Fife, graduated MB ChB with honours from Edinburgh in 1908. Winning a travelling scholarship he spent a year learning ENT surgery in European  clinics . He spent time in Hamburg and Jena, then  learned about ear conditions at the clinic of Dr Gustav Brühl (1871 – 1939) in Berlin, and throat and nose disorders respectively at the Vienna clinics of Dr Ottokar Chiari (1853-1918) and Marcus Hajer (1861-1941). This was followed by six months of research at the Pasteur Institute and a clinical assistant post at the Hôpital Saint-Louis in Paris. During WW1 he was commandant at the Royal Flying Corps Hospital at Eaton Square in London and its sister Hospital in Bryanston Square. This London posting gave him the chance to attend the King’s College Hospital clinics of Sir St Clair Thomson (1859-1943), the leading British otolaryngologist. After the War Guthrie was appointed to the staff of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh as surgeon for diseases of ear, nose and throat. His first textbook, Speech in childhood: its development and disorders , written with his psychologist colleague George Seth,  became a standard work on the subject. In 1936 Guthrie retired from the Children’s Hospital and during WW2 served as aural surgeon to Scottish Command and surgeon to the specialist Eye, Ear and Throat Infirmary, a small voluntary hospital in Cambridge Street to which he had been appointed in 1919.

In 1945, at the age of 60, Guthrie gave up his remaining clinical appointments and devoted himself to the history of medicine. After ten years of research and writing,  his History of Medicine was published in 1945 to critical acclaim. Foremost among these reviews was one by George Bernard Shaw in The Observer. Shaw’s review was then published in America and History of Medicine became a best seller around the world with American (1946), Spanish (1947), German (1952) and Italian (1966) editions.. He was appointed lecturer in the History of Medicine by the University of Edinburgh and gave a series of lecture courses  as well as becoming a prolific writer on the topic. ENT textbooks which he wrote or edited included Diseases of the Ear, Nose and Throat in Childhood  and, with C P Stewart, the 5th edition of Logan Turner’s Diseases of Ear, Nose and Throat.    His historical volumes included A History of Otolarygology (1949).

Guthrie left a rich legacy, from which we still benefit today. He founded the Scottish Society  of the History of Medicine and was a leading light in the foundation of the British Society for the History of Medicine. He was the first president of both these societies.  The Guthrie Trust Fund , administered by the Scottish Society of the History of Medicine, each year disburses grants totalling around £3000 to assist any aspect of research into history of medicine.  The Guthrie Lecture, administered by the two Edinburgh Medical Royal Colleges,  is held biennially and carries an honorarium of some £3000.

The Scottish Otolaryngological Society Guthrie Fund, administered by ENT Scotland gives  small grants to ENT consultants and trainees to enhance training and education of ENT in Scotland to a total of £5-6000 annually.

Iain McIntyre
J Med Biogr. 2018 May;26(2):95-101

This is an abridged version, of which the full version can be found at