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John P Mitchell


1919 - 2015

Summarised from Plarr's "Lives of the Fellows Online"

John Mitchell was born in Redruth, Cornwall, on 8 June 1919 and always remained fiercely proud of his Cornish roots. The family moved to London when his father, Edward John Mitchell, a tax inspector, was placed in charge of Colonial and Dominion Income Tax. His mother, Elsie Matilda Mitchell née Phillimore, was an actuarial clerk. When the family later moved to Cheltenham, John was awarded a scholarship to Cheltenham College and moved to the Middlesex Hospital to read medicine, eventually winning the Asher prize for anatomy and gaining a scholarship.

He qualified in 1942, and was appointed House Surgeon to Lord Alfred Webb-Johnson and Sir Eric Riches, general surgeons with large urological practices. The urological ward could be located by the smell, prostate surgery was hazardous (all the patients developed infections and spent weeks recovering) and patients with spinal cord injuries died from sepsis. 

Ar the start of World War II, John joined the RAMC where he was mentioned in despatches for outstanding work in the field. On his return, John moved to Manchester. Starting again as a House Surgeon, he progressed to become a Senior Registrar at Salford Royal Hospital under Dennis Poole-Wilson and, later, under Wilfred Adams in Bristol, both pioneers of the new endoscopic procedures.

John was appointed a Consultant Urologist in Bristol in 1952. The introduction of fibreoptic telescopes in the early 1970s, designed by Harold Hopkins at Reading University, revolutionised endoscopy; for the first time, it enabled trainees to watch transurethral surgery being performed through a side-arm. John was at the heart of this revolutionary period in endoscopic urology, and the advantages of minimally invasive surgery rapidly spread to other branches of medical practice, heralding the birth of keyhole surgery.

In 1974, Bristol University appointed him as their first Professor of Urology.  This was followed by the Presidency of the Section of Urology at the Royal Society of Medicine, the award of the St Peter's Medal in 1976, and the Presidency of BAUS (1978 - 1980).

He retired to Cornwall where he died on 16 October 2015, at the age of 96.

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