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Pioneers, innovators and advocates recognised with RCP honorary fellowships

2019 saw honorary fellowships awarded to six eminent figures who have made a significant contribution to medical science.

An MRI innovator, a skilful neurosurgeon and a public health pioneer are among the distinguished individuals who were awarded the highest accolade of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) last year.

‘It is a real pleasure to recognise with honorary fellowships such a distinguished group of people who have contributed so much, in such diverse ways, to medical science. Not only has their research, innovation and advocacy had a direct impact on physicians’ work, it has also, through that, improved countless patients’ lives. We could not ask more of our honorary fellows,’ said RCP president Professor Andrew Goddard.

The use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has transformed medicine since the first scanner was installed at Hammersmith Hospital in 1984. It is Jane Cox’s pioneering work in this field, from its inception, that is recognised with her honorary fellowship. She has developed clinical MR spectroscopy as a discipline and trained generations of radiologists, paediatricians, intensive care physicians, neurologists and hepatologists who came to work in the MR research environment. Her contribution to one of the major clinical translational developments of the 20th century – to the point where the basic science has evolved into an invaluable clinical tool for hospitals in the UK and around the world.

Magnetic resonance is also the subject of Professor Richard Syms’ work. As an engineer with a special interest in miniaturised sensors, and a ‘classic inventor’, he has significantly improved MR imaging coils and catheters for cardiac and biliary catheterisation and streamlined both CT and MR imaging technology. His outstanding translational research has had a huge impact on interventional technology, with most of his inventions being commercialised and now in common usage worldwide.

Two of the honorary fellows for 2019 were nominated by the RCP’s sister college, the Bangladesh College of Physician and Surgeons, which was established in 1972. Professor Kanak Barua, a surgeon with a reputation for embracing technology and pioneering advanced neurosurgical methods, is a former president of the Bangladesh college and now chair of the neurosurgery department at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University. His compatriot, Professor Nazrul Islam, is honoured for initiating and developing echocardiography, invasive cardiology and cardiac electrophysiology in the country.

The RCP also has a presence in Brussels – and has Paul Belcher to thank for that. His honorary fellowship acknowledges not just his careful, intelligent and subtle advocacy in Belgium over the past 15 years, but also his longstanding work with the European Public Health Alliance.

Kevin Murphy is professor of endocrinology in the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College London. Not only has he produced important and timely work on the role of the appetite centres of the brain in regulating food intake and controlling body weight, but he has also enthused new generations of endocrinologists. With his teaching roles as director of postgraduate studies in the Department of Medicine and director of the BSc degree in endocrinology at Imperial, along with his work on widening participation in medical studies, he is a key opinion leader in shaping the future of undergraduate medical training.

Honorary fellows are distinguished individuals elected under special bye-laws. They either, hold a medical qualification, but are not members of the RCP, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of Medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature (bye-law 39b); or who do not necessarily hold a medical qualification, but have rendered exceptional services to the Science or Practice of Medicine (bye-law 43).