Dr. Derek Doyle, 1931-2022

Volume 23, Number 2: February 2022

Tribute to Dr. Derek Doyle

“Access to palliative care, though good, is not as universally available as it should be, and largely depends on the referring physician. Contrary to what some have claimed, and many others expected, it does not always eradicate all pain, all physical and psychosocial suffering, and—no surprise to many of us—restore peace, happiness, and quiet contentment. If it did, we would not be physicians and nurses but miracle workers on a par with our God.”

— Derek Doyle, OBE, DSc, MD, FRCSE, FRCP (Lond & Edin) & FRCGP

A Short Bio of Derek Doyle, and Fond Remembrances

It is with great sadness that we learned in January of the death of Dr. Derek Doyle, a founder of the IAHPC and a deeply compassionate palliative care provider and leader. Dr. Doyle’s immense contribution to the field of hospice and palliative medicine has been recognized throughout the world.

After earning his medical degree, he worked for 10 years as a missionary surgeon in South Africa, another 10 as an associate specialist/family physician, then 20 years planning—then leading—Scotland’s first comprehensive hospice/palliative care service.

He played an impressive role in medical publishing, as founding editor-in-chief of the journal Palliative Medicine, and senior editor of the first three editions of the Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine. He authored or edited 18 books, mainly on aspects of palliative medicine, and published more than 60 papers on palliative medicine and the history of medicine.

In 1987 he received the Order of the British Empire and, in 2005, the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Some of the many institutions that have honored his work are the National Hospice Organization (USA), McGill University (Canada), The Hong Kong Society for Palliative Care, Chosun University (South Korea), Toronto University (Canada), the Korean Society for Hospice and Palliative Care, and Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Centre (USA).

Editor’s note: As late as 2019, Dr. Doyle continued to contribute to the field, authoring one of IAHPC’s most popular feature stories: Let Us Review Our Practice Priorities: "Secret" tips for better patient care.

Dr. Derek Doyle demonstrating a bedside nerve block to a group of medical students in 1982.

“I met Derek for the first time at a congress in Germany—the first palliative care conference, set up by Eberhard Klaschik and his group in Cologne in 1996. I was still a young researcher and clinician (if you define “young” broadly enough!), and was only slowly becoming aware of the broad international community of palliative care pioneers. Derek Doyle had been invited as the keynote speaker, and started by remarking that he felt very honored to be invited, as he felt that he had just turned from being an elder statesman into a plain old dinosaur. He then gave an inspiring lecture that combined medical knowledge with a deep empathy and love for patients and their families. I think that he kindled a passion for palliative care in several participants on that day, as he had done in so many other countries and places.

“Again, in subsequent meetings, I found that his combination of wit, humility, and empathy made him a real role model, probably not only for me, but for many others who came along the palliative care road that he had paved so carefully. When he became very sick, I was able to exchange some emails with him, and was struck once more by his ongoing passion for our field of work. Unfortunately, my workload was heavy and I did not keep up the conversation. Now I have missed that opportunity, and am no longer able to share thoughts with him. But I will always remember him as a noble and great pioneer of palliative care, and a kind and compassionate man.”

— Lukas Radbruch, MD (Germany)
Current IAHPC Chair of the Board of Directors

“As a founding member of the International Association of Hospice and Palliative Care, Derek Doyle brought his extraordinary talents to advance the care of the seriously ill and dying nationally and internationally. His memoir, The Platform Ticket: Memories and Musings of a Hospice Doctor, stands as an exceptional personal reflection by a physician learning to care for the dying.

“Throughout his leadership tenure at IAHPC, Derek was the consummate master clinician and educator advocating for palliative care as a specialty on a global scale. His many edited textbooks have helped to build the practice and the evidence-based knowledge to foster the education of all health care professionals, volunteers, and caregivers. He cared deeply about advancing palliative care in resource-limited settings and with vulnerable populations, and his efforts have contributed to changes in the landscape of palliative care globally. We thank him for his vision, his leadership, and his legacy of educational materials, and we remember his collaborative demeanor that made it a joy to be in his presence and work with him. He was a leader of leaders.”

— Kathleen Foley, MD (USA)
IAHPC Chair of the Board of Directors, 2005-2007

“I have an anecdote of how I first learned about Derek. In the late 1980s—at a palliative care meeting I organized in San Nicolás, Argentina—several experts from the US came to teach, including Eduardo Bruera and Charles Cleeland, director of the Pain Research Group at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Cleeland brought a researcher whose last name happened to be Doyle. A few years later, at another meeting, the UK’s Robert Twycross and Italy’s Vittorio Ventrafridda asked if we had been visited by other international leaders. I replied that several had visited in the past, including Drs. Bruera, Cleeland, and Doyle. Surprised, Robert and Vittorio remarked upon our wonderful opportunity to have met the great Derek Doyle. That’s how I learned of Derek's existence and his great work, and the fact that at least two Doyles were working in palliative care!

“A few years later, at a congress of the European Association for Palliative Care, I was reading some of the posters when a gentleman came up to me. He asked who I was, where I was from, and introduced himself: it was Derek. I was amazed by his kindness, his humility, and his interest in learning about the status of palliative care in our country and the region.

“In my role as Chair of the IAHPC and as a board member, I saw how much knowledge he had to teach and his common sense: both essential for palliative care provision and for the development and implementation of projects. Meeting and interacting with Derek was a great reward of my work in palliative care. I am very grateful for having had the opportunity.

— Roberto Wenk, MD (Argentina)
IAHPC Chair of the Board of Directors, 2008-2013

I cannot remember when I first met Derek Doyle. From the very beginning of my work in Palliative Care it looked like he was always there. I initially as a junior physician was able to learn from his lectures and thoughtful comments in committees. His Scottish accent forced me to pay particular attention so I could understand what he said, and I rapidly learned that every word he said was impeccably correct and inspiring to me.

Over the years I was able to share multiple meetings and projects with Derek as part of IAHPC, EAPC, initial meetings and discussions regarding the journal Palliative Medicine and the Oxford Textbook, and informal corridor talks in congresses and meetings. I was always drawn to join small groups when Derek was part of them. Listening to his comments and advice was greatly reassuring to many of us in times when we were all very uncertain of our survival as a field and as individuals in a medical and academic environment that frequently was not supportive or even hostile to the idea of person centered care.

Derek made many junior colleagues like me feel confident that we had chosen a field that was greatly meaningful both professionally and personally. Derek got things done. Perhaps his background as a surgeon and his work as a missionary surgeon in Africa were instrumental in his ability to think “ our of the box” and find innovative solutions. He had a global view of medicine and our ethical mandate to alleviate human suffering that was both inspiring and contagious. He knew how to talk, negotiate with, and ultimately convince academic, clinical and government leaders and I learned a lot from him about how to conduct these negotiations.

Above all Derek was a warm, friendly and compassionate person who made everyone he met feel like they were very important and they had something to contribute.

Over time he was less able to travel and I greatly missed his presence and nice talk.

We have his photo in our “wall of fame” in our Department as a way of reminding us of his example as a leader, and also to inspire the new generation to learn about him and his work.

Thanks so much, Derek. Godspeed,

—Eduardo Bruera, MD (USA)
Chair, Board of Directors 2000-2004

The following appeared in the newsletter after Dr. Doyle was honored with the prestigious European Association for Palliative Care Award in 2013 that recognized his long and dedicated leadership in the field of palliative medicine in Europe.

“Derek had an untiring dedication to teaching while empowering us to apply our knowledge as we sit at the bedside of patients who desperately need our type of care and love. He has provided us with clinical pearls to care for our fellow travelers in a simple, trustworthy, and compassionate manner. He was able to skillfully bridge the gap between science and caring with a remarkable human touch.

“During my 17 years as editor of this newsletter, I asked Derek innumerable times to contribute articles. Not only did he accept the assignments, but he did it graciously and wrote with his usual clarity while always exceeding my grandest expectation.”

— William Farr, MD (USA)
IAHPC cofounder

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