Outstanding doctor who became a world leader in urology

John Fitzpatrick: July 15th, 1948 – May 14th, 2014


Professor John Fitzpatrick, who has died aged 65, was a medical doctor specialising in urology whose work had earned for him a global reputation.

Fitzpatrick, who was until his death director of research at the Irish Cancer Society (ICS), a position which he had taken up on retirement from the UCD Medical School in 2011, was described by John McCormack, CEO of the society, this week as “a global leader in cancer treatment”.

His close friend and colleague for over 35 years, Dr Christopher Woodhouse, Emeritus Professor of Adolescent Urology at University College, London, told The Irish Times that “it is no exaggeration to say that he could easily be described as the world’s foremost urologist”.

He was also an outstanding teacher. “Some people are very good doctors, some others are very good teachers. John was both, something very rare,” Dr Woodhouse added.

An indication of the esteem in which Fitzpatrick was held internationally was his election to membership of the US Association of Genito-Urinary Surgeons, a distinction rarely awarded to non-Americans, and invitations to teach as a visiting professor in practically all the university medical schools of the United States. In total, he held over 45 visiting professorships globally; as news spread of his sudden death in Dublin, over 100 doctors and other medical professionals from all over the world left messages with the ICS, and his death notice on The Irish Times’s website had, astonishingly, over 900 visitors.

Fitzpatrick spent periods as, respectively, editor-in-chief of the British Journal of Urology, president of the British Association of Urological Surgeons and of the Irish Society of Urology. Prolific author He wrote over 280 peer-reviewed journal articles, over 100 book chapters, edited 18 textbooks, and also sat on the editorial board of 25 other academic journals.

John Michael Fitzpatrick was born in Dublin in 1948, one of three sons of Hugh Fitzpatrick, a solicitor, and his wife Mary, née Shinkwin, a UCC-trained historian who later took a higher degree at Trinity College, Dublin.

Fitzpatrick grew up on Ailesbury Road in the prosperous Ballsbridge suburb of Dublin and was educated at Gonzaga College and UCD’s medical school. Fitzpatrick shone also at languages and on leaving Gonzaga, aged just 16, he was offered an exhibition to study classics (known as Greats) at Oxford, but turned it down in favour of medicine.

Too young for UCD, he demonstrated an adventurousness that was reflected throughout his life in expeditions to mountain tops in Africa, Asia and South America, by travelling with a teenage friend through Syria, Jordan and Egypt. Later, aged just 19, he visited communist-era Czechoslovakia just before the Prague Spring of 1968.

Fitzpatrick graduated in 1971 from the UCD school of medicine, training at St Vincent’s University Hospital. He became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 1975 and received his Masters in Surgery in 1976 at UCD. He became, in time, also a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS) of England, a FRCS of Glasgow, and a Fellow of the College of Urologists of South Africa.

After marriage to fellow doctor Carol O’Donohue, later herself professor of child psychiatry at UCD, Fitzpatrick moved to London specifically to train in urology as no training of sufficient depth was then available in Ireland. New surgical skills During this formative period, a spell at Mainz in Germany enabled him to develop skills in the then new discipline of minimally invasive surgery, and he built many continental European professional links at that time.

One of his most significant contributions to Irish medicine, on his return to Dublin in 1981 as consultant urologist at the Meath hospital and the Trinity College School of Medicine at St James’s Hospital, and, later, from 1986, as professor of surgery at UCD and the Mater, was the development of urology in Ireland to a standard of international best practice.

The UCD School of Medicine, in a statement, said Fitzpatrick had “built a major research programme in prostate cancer with Professor Bill Watson (UCD Associate Professor of Cancer Biology) and was a founding member of the Prostate Cancer Research Consortium, a ground-breaking collaboration between UCD, TCD, RCSI, DCU and their affiliated teaching hospitals”.

Fitzpatrick built up the practice of urology, Christopher Woodhouse says, “both clinically and in research, especially in the areas of treatment for kidney stones, obstruction of the kidney and prostate cancer” .

He is survived by his widow, a daughter, Emma, and two sons, Gareth and Andrew, by his brothers, Hugh and Andrew, and by grandchildren.