Operating on the Frontier: Memoirs of a Pioneer Canadian Neurosurgeon


307 pages
Contains Photos, Index
ISBN 1-55017-137-2
DDC 617.4'8'092





Reviewed by Hannah Gay

Hannah Gay is a professor of history at Simon Fraser University in
British Columbia.


Frank Turnbull attended the University of British Columbia in the early
1920s and, after a few months at sea, followed his father into medicine.
In 1928 he graduated from the University of Toronto Medical School and
later trained in neurosurgery in Toronto and London. During World War
II, he was sent to Europe with the 12th Field ambulance RCAMC, but was
given surprisingly little work in his specialty. Indeed, at the start of
his career, Turnbull found little enthusiasm among doctors for sending
patients for neurosurgery, a field little understood at the time.
Clearly Turnbull was a pioneer, and after the war he slowly helped build
understanding and respect for his field. Later, he was among those who
lobbied for a medical school at the University of British
Columbia—against the wishes of many professors, who saw a medical
faculty simply as a sink for funds. His early struggles were not helped
by his having a tuberculosis infection, which recurred throughout his

This personal memoir, which contains many anecdotes relating to early
neurosurgery in Vancouver, will be of interest medical historians,
especially since Turnbull is an important figure in the development of
medical practice and education in Vancouver, and his contributions have
been widely recognized within the profession. However, the details he
gives throughout are a little too technical for the lay reader and
probably too superficial for the specialist. The descriptions of his own
medical condition are, nonetheless, detached and interesting.


Turnbull, Frank., “Operating on the Frontier: Memoirs of a Pioneer Canadian Neurosurgeon,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/1198.