Specialty spotlight – haematology

Dr Tim Littlewood, consultant haematologist, Oxford, and Dr Duncan Brian, ST6 in haematology, North West London, discuss what drew them to a career in haematology and why trainees should get the chance to try it as a specialty.

Introduction to haematology

Haematology is the specialty responsible for the diagnosis and management of a wide range of benign and malignant disorders of the red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and the coagulation system in adults and children. Furthermore, haematologists have responsibilities for the laboratory generating blood test results and manage safe blood product use.

We support and advise colleagues from all specialties in hospital and primary care with diagnostic and clinical problems in their own patient groups.

I particularly enjoy the continuity of care in haematology. It is a privilege getting to know the patients and their families, building up the doctor-patient relationship over a period of time and being part of a team that provides cutting-edge treatments to patients with frequently challenging clinical problems.

Haematology is at the forefront of the application of science and novel technologies to clinical medicine. From basic research through clinical trials throughout your career you can expect to be part of a specialty delivering remarkable improvements to patient care across a broad range of blood disorders including cancers (such as leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma), thrombosis, haemoglobinopathies, bleeding disorders and in transfusion medicine.

A career in haematology offers variety with plenty of scope for subspecialisation. If you are looking for a forward-looking specialist career and are a good communicator, interested in people and managing patients with often complex medical needs then come and join our team.

Professor Kristian Bowles

Training and working in haematology

Haematology resources

RCP resources

Historical highlights from the library, archive and museum collection

The library holds published letters concerning the first recorded human blood transfusions, which were by Jean-Baptiste Denis (d.1704), physician to Louis XIV of France. In 1667, the described his experiments in transfusing blood in A letter concerning a new way of curing sundry diseases by transfusion of blood. He describes transfusions between dogs, between a dog and a calf, and even from a lamb to a human patient, all apparently completed with success. In the following year, 1668, George Acton replied to Denis’ report with Physical reflections upon a letter written by J. Denis. This is one of only two short publications known Acton is known to have written, and we know little of his life or work. On the title page of his Physical reflections he describes himself as ‘spagyriciis Regiis in ordinario’, or ‘maker of alchemical medicine to the king’, a title nowhere else recorded. His interest in transfusion certainly seems to be somewhat alchemical: he comments that in hermetic (secret or occult) knowledge, the lamb is seen as ‘the meeskest and most peaceable’ animal, and so its blood might thereby have lessened the fever of the patient. He is keen to see further experiments on this ‘new method of healing’.

A splendid silver cup stands in the Treasures Room at the RCP, a gift from Prince Leopold, grateful patient of William Jenner FRCP (1815-1898). William Jenner was personal physician to Queen Victoria and the Royal family. Leopold, her eighth child, had haemophilia and with no treatment existing during his lifetime, Jenner and other physicians played a large role in attempting to treat him and ease his suffering. Jenner aided in caring for Leopold’s haemophilia from 1861 until Leopold’s death. Jenner was also involved in researching the pathology of haemophilia and was the second doctor to study the joint tissues of a haemophiliac under a microscope – which led to him reporting his observations that the blood was slow to coagulate. Our collections also include his portrait.

The development of haematology is well covered by library books for loan. For example, we hold The discovery and significance of the blood groups by Marion Reid and Ian Shine (Cambridge, Massachusetts: SBB Books, 2012) which describes ‘with all the feuds, the frauds, and the tales of generosity and genius along the way’.

We have an obituary in our archives for Sunitha Wickramasinghe FRCP (1941-2009), emeritus professor of haematology at Imperial College, London, and visiting professor in haematology, University of Oxford. He was a Sri Lankan who made a significant contribution to British haematology and contributed internationally in his field of expertise, the ultrastructural morphology of erythropoiesis.