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Meet the Gilchrists – caring for Glaswegians for more than a century

Sunday, September 2, 2018

At 22 Kirsty Bridges was later than most to enter nursing, but looking back she knows it was in her blood. Kirsty is the fourth generation of her family to work in healthcare - and maintaining the family tradition since 1915 is something she is very proud of.

Before entering nursing in 1990, Kirsty had been to Glasgow University to study architecture and then English with History of Art but doubts were creeping in that it wasn’t for her. Now, 28 years on she’s glad she made the leap of faith into nursing – something she feels was probably in her blood.

Kirsty’s dad Bill, who only died in March this year was a physiotherapist who went on to manage the physiotherapy teams at the Southern General and the Victoria Infirmary and both her grandfather and great grandfather were GPs in the south side.

Kirsty said: “By all accounts my great grandfather John Gilchrist, who was born in 1878, was a bit of a character.  Initially he trained as a chemist and ran a number of shops in the south side. He was married with four or five children when he announced to his wife he was selling his shops to re-train as a doctor. After his training he joined the army and saw active service in Egypt during World War One, so I dread to think the sights he saw.

“After the war he set up in private practice in Regent Park Square, Strathbungo – this was obviously long before the NHS was founded. With his knowledge of army life, he specialised in what was termed VD in those days. I am told that his regular patients arrived through the front door, while his patients suffering from VD came in the back so they weren’t spotted by anyone!

“It’s fascinating to think – with everything we know now – how he managed to treat all these people before the discovery of antibiotics. I really have no idea.”

Kirsty’s grandfather James was also a GP and set up a practise in the Gorbals in the late 1920’s, right through to the 1950s. There Dr Gilchrist cared for very poor families, many of whom were Jews who fled persecution in Europe. He ended his NHS days in a practice in Shawlands in the mid 1980’s at the age of 79.

“My grandfather also served as a medic in the war – this time it was the second, and was sent to France the day after the Normandy landings. He spent much of his time as a surgeon in a field hospital in Caens and then in POW and internment camps in France and Germany. This was around the time that antibiotics were first being used, but the conditions he would have been working in would still have been horrendous.”

Before studying medicine, and around the age of 16, a young James Gilchrist would spend time with his doctor father in the burns unit at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, tending to burns victims.

“As a GP he must have seen it all, often being called to home births which were getting complicated. His patients were very loyal and stayed with him throughout their lives. I am told patients would turn up many years later to pay him, after being told their family had been too poor to pay him at the time of their birth. As far as I am aware, He always refused the payment.”

His medical training came into its own when his son (Kirsty’s dad), had a ruptured appendix aged just two. The child was taken from the parents and they weren’t allowed to see him for much of his hospital stay – although my grandfather was asked to anaesthetise him! The family story is that they were told to go away and forget about their wee boy and focus on having another child.

Now in the third generation of health professionals, Kirsty’s dad had a successful career as a physio, working at Lennox Castle, then Belvedere and finally the Southern General, up until the 1990s.

Kirsty said: “Even during his long and happy retirement, he was very passionate about the NHS and was very proud that I went into nursing – eventually!! He really did miss his work; it was such a huge part of what he was about.

“Dad died in March, so missed all the NHS 70th celebrations – that made me a bit sad as he would have loved all that.”

Kirsty has dedicated her life to nursing with roles in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Lanarkshire. She spent many years as a staff nurse at the Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow and is now Nurse Manager at the Beatson in Lanarkshire.

She had a taste of life in the NHS as a very young girl going on calls with her dad as he visited patients.

She said: “As as child I remember dad working very long hours and we often visited Belvedere at weekends. I obviously couldn’t be with him when he saw patients, so I would get left in the car with crisps and a juice!

“I have always been fascinated by my rich family history and am proud that the Gilchrists have been caring for Glaswegians for more than a century now – things have changed so much in that time but caring for patients is still central to everything we did and continue to do.”







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Last Updated: 11 November 2021