W. Ironside Bruce

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William Ironside Bruce (1876 – 21 March 1921) was a physician in Europe who conducted early research on the use of X-rays. He headed the X-ray departments at Charing Cross Hospital and at the Hospital for Sick Children. He wrote an early book on X-ray techniques and he was president of the radiology section of the Royal Society of Medicine. In 1921, Bruce was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia, which his physicians attributed to his work with X-rays. He died two months after being diagnosed with the illness. Bruce's death led to the establishment of an X-ray safety committee in Great Britain.

Early life[edit]

Bruce was born the second son of an Aberdeenshire physician.[1] His uncle was J. Mitchell Bruce, a physician who wrote a widely read textbook, Materia Medica and Therapeutics.[2] He was a cousin of Edmund Ironside, 1st Baron Ironside. Bruce completed medical school in 1900 at the University of Aberdeen. After medical school he served in the South African Field Force and he became interested in the applications of X-ray to the management of war injuries.[1]


After his military service, Bruce became an assistant to Sir James Mackenzie Davidson, a physician at Charing Cross Hospital. Davidson was an ophthalmologist-turned-radiologist who had gone to Würzburg to receive his X-ray training from Wilhelm Röntgen in the 1890s; he was the first radiologist to achieve knighthood.[3] Bruce worked for the hospital until his death. He also taught at Charing Cross Hospital Medical School. When Davidson retired, Bruce became the head of the X-ray department at Charing Cross Hospital.[4] He was also the second radiographer at the Hospital for Sick Children.[5] With an early clinical interest in X-rays, Bruce worked with powerful X-ray tubes that he thought would be more useful in treating cancers and blood diseases.[2] In 1906, he published an article in The Lancet about ongoing radiation treatment that he was providing to two leukaemia patients.[6]

Early in his career, Bruce wrote a book, A System of Radiography, with an Atlas of the Normal, which was favorably reviewed in the Dublin Journal of Medical Science.[7] He later devised a special type of X-ray couch with lead shielding, and he began to caution against the previous setups that required exposure of the radiographer's lower body to the X-ray beam, but he is thought to have been exposed to large amounts of radiation by that time.[3][8] Bruce lectured to the students studying for the medical radiology diploma at Cambridge University.[9] When Rudyard Kipling became ill in 1918, he carried out Kipling's X-ray examination.[10] He was a member of the Royal Society of Medicine and had been president of the group's Section of Radiology. He had become president of the Section of Radiology and Electrotherapeutics of the British Medical Association in 1921.[1]


The monument to the Martyrs of Radiology in Hamburg

Bruce became ill in January 1921, and he was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia. He wrote a letter to a colleague asking if he knew of anyone who would be interested in taking over his X-ray practice, as he had been advised to retire from X-ray work and move to the country.[4] Bruce underwent a blood transfusion and other treatment, but he died at his home on 21 March of that year.[2] Even a week before his death, Bruce remained optimistic that he would soon be able to return to lecture on radiology topics.[9]

Bruce's death aroused public concern about the effects of radiation exposure, leading to the founding of the British X-Ray and Radium Protection Committee, which was headquartered in London.[11][12][13] In 1936, the Monument to the X-ray and Radium Martyrs of All Nations was created in Hamburg to honor Bruce and 168 other people who died or suffered serious injury because of the early work they performed with X-rays.[5]


  1. ^ a b c "William Ironside Bruce, M.D.Aberd" (PDF). British Medical Journal. 1 (3143): 481. 26 March 1921. doi:10.1136/bmj.1.3143.481.
  2. ^ a b c "Another martyr to the roentgen rays". Journal of the American Medical Association. American Medical Association. 76 (17): 1181. 1 January 1921. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Report of Proceedings: Session 1994–95 and 1995–96" (PDF). Scottish Society of the History of Medicine. pp. 21–22.
  4. ^ a b Barclay, A. E. (1 January 1921). "Obituary: William Ironside Bruce, M.D. (Aberdeen)". American Journal of Roentgenology. American Roentgen Ray Society. 8: 489–490.
  5. ^ a b "The Electrical Department". www.hharp.org. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
  6. ^ Bruce, W. Ironside (27 January 1906). "Two cases of leukaemia treated by the roentgen rays". The Lancet. 167 (4300): 211–213. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(01)80582-1.
  7. ^ "Reviews and bibliographic notices". Dublin Journal of Medical Science. Fannin & Company: 457–458. 1 January 1907.
  8. ^ Mould, R. F. (1993). A Century of X-Rays and Radioactivity in Medicine: With Emphasis on Photographic Records of the Early Years. CRC Press. ISBN 9780750302241.
  9. ^ a b "The late Dr. W. Ironside Bruce" (PDF). British Medical Journal: 514. 2 April 1921.
  10. ^ "The Carrington and Rees extracts from the diaries of Caroline Kipling" (PDF). Retrieved 8 December 2016.
  11. ^ "AST Standards of Practice for Ionizing Radiation Exposure in the Perioperative Setting" (PDF). Association of Surgical Technologists. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  12. ^ Raj, P. Prithvi; Lou, Leland; Erdine, Serdar; Staats, Peter S.; Waldman, Steven D.; Racz, Gabor; Hammer, Michael; Niv, David; Ruiz-Lopez, Ricardo; Heavner, James E. (2008). Interventional Pain Management: Image-Guided Procedures. Elsevier Health Sciences. ISBN 1437721435.
  13. ^ "Committee to investigate phases of roentgen ray". American Journal of Electrotherapeutics and Radiology. Scientific Authors Publishing Company. 39: 300. 1 January 1921.