Active retirement for neurologist
Dr. William Pryse-Phillips has left an indelible impression on the Faculty of Medicine. As the first academic neurologist hired for the Memorial’s fledgling medical school in 1972, he developed teaching materials that became the basis for two books, and started a program of research on common neurological problems in the province’s population. He also inspired a love of neurology in many students.
“I’ve always said that it was Dr. Pryse-Phillips who motivated me to go into neurology,” said Dr. Alan Goodridge (Class of 1979) and associate professor of medicine (neurology). “He is a great teacher.”
Dr. Pryse-Phillips said his success as a teacher is because he enjoys neurology as a discipline. “What I enjoy about it is that I don’t really require a lot of black boxes I use my ears and eyes and I ask the right questions and listen for the right answers. After an hour of careful examination you should know what the problem is when the patient leaves. Neurology is still very personal, it enables you to really be a doctor and the fun of that communicates itself. People who watch me working with patients realize I’m having quite a good time teasing out the threads that may lead to a diagnosis and some treatment.”
In addition to his love for teaching, Dr. Pryse-Phillips’ interests are eclectic. He’s researched and treated headache (particularly migraine therapy), multiple sclerosis, hereditary neuropathies, Alzheimer’s disease, and myotonic dystrophy, he’s written fundamental textbooks and he’s served as a university orator at many convocations. This fall’s convocation will see him receive the honour of professor emeritus.
He credits his success as a researcher to generous patients who co-operated in creating new knowledge about problems such as myotonic dystrophy in the province, and the hereditary neuropathies found in the Notre Dame Bay area. The careful clinical work done by Dr. Pryse-Phillips on hereditary neuropathy was critical to the recent discovery of the gene for the rarer HSAN II by Xenon Genetics in collaboration with MUN researchers Drs. Roger Green and Ban Younghusband an important step in the diagnosis and future management of this disease.
As for his success as an author of two ground-breaking textbooks, Dr. Pryse-Phillips said they emerged as a result of his work in developing teaching materials for the curriculum. Essential Neurology, written in collaboration with Dr. T.J. Murray of Dalhousie University has gone through four English editions, one Arabic edition, and two editions in Spanish.”
The next book, Companion to Clinical Neurology, began in 1988 as a comprehensive inventory of words, terms and diagnostic criteria in the field. Originally conceived as a book of 75,000 words, it grew to a first edition of 850,000 words. The second edition, published in 2003 was updated to include over 15,000 alphabetical entries, 6,000 references, 77 photographs of prominent figures in neurology and the addresses of about 200 relevant Web sites.
And now, with encouragement from university president Axel Meisen, Dr. Pryse-Phillips is putting the Companion to Clinical Neurology on the Web. “Right now it’s on a limited Web site while I try to get permissions from every authority used for electronic publications,” he explained. “I want to include pictures and perhaps videos it will be a living, moving, breathing book. I think I’ll be 120 when I finish that!”
The main area of his life that Dr. Pryse-Phillips has cut back is his patient load. A few years ago, after 35 years on-call, he discontinued that. But his decision to see fewer patients is not just a matter of his age he says that medicine today is harder to practice because of cutbacks. “Medicine delayed is medicine denied. I simply cannot accept a six month delay for an MRI. The lack of facilities for diagnosis is a threat to physicians and patients and it’s hugely annoying, embarrassing and frustrating.”
Since that first appointment of an academic neurologist in 1972, the Faculty of Medicine has developed a small but important residency training program in neurology. Ten neurologists have completed the program, with three more currently in training. Of these, seven have worked in the province for periods of time ranging from a locum for a few months to permanent jobs for several years, and currently two MUN-trained neurologists are still in active practice in the province, one in Corner Brook and one in St. John’s.