General Internal Medicine
Designatory Letters: 
Mb Edin 1941, MRCP Edin 1943, MD Edin 1947, MRCP Lond 1946, FRCP Edin 1947, FRCPC, FRCP Lond, FACP

(Contributed by Neil MacDonald and colleagues in Alberta, Canada)

James Alan Longmore Gilbert was born on January 28, 1918, in Grantown-on-Spey, Scotland, to Canadian parents. After receiving his primary and secondary education in British Columbia, he earned his MB, ChB from the University of Edinburgh in 1941 He gained his M.R.C.P.E in 1943.before joining the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps and seeing service in Italy before being evacuated to England with osteomyelitis of the femur. After working at the British Postgraduate Medical School in London, he earned his M.R.C.P. (Lond) in 1946. Back in Scotland, he was elected FRCP Edin in1947. and his M.D. from Edinburgh on the strength of his thesis entitled “ Medial Aspects of Partial Gastrectomy for Peptic Ulcer” He was a Lund Research Fellow of the Diabetic Association of Great Britain.

He returned to Canada in August of 1948 to practise as an internist in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan moving to the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Edmonton in late 1949. He became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada in 1950, a Fellow of the American College of Physicians in 1959 and a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London in 1965.

Dr. Gilbert began his academic career with an appointment as a lecturer in medicine at the University of Alberta in 1950. and also worked in the Cancer Diagnostic Clinic of the Government of Alberta. In 1951 he became a consultant for the Royal Canadian Air Force in Edmonton and became Medical Director for the Interprovincial Pipeline Company of Canada and for Lakehead Pipeline in the U.S.. In 1955 he was promoted to the rank of Clinical Professor, still on a sessional appointment, in 1957 being invited to join the full time faculty of the Department of Medicine at the University of Alberta at the princely salary of $8,500 per year as an Associate Professor and was awarded tenure in 1959. He was promoted to full Professor in 1963. In 1967, he moved from the University of Alberta Hospital to the Royal Alexandra Hospital as its first full time academic staff member in medicine.

Education was the field in which Dr. Gilbert became a legend, not only in Edmonton but across Canada and around the world as evidenced by the many international students competing to do elective rotations with him as preceptor. He won the Outstanding Teacher Award of the Faculty of Medicine in 1972, 1974, 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1985. He was Director of the Clinical Teaching Unit at the Royal Alexandra Hospital from 1967 till 1984. He was Chair of the Committee for Research in Medical Education at the U. of A. from 1966 to 1974, Chair of the Faculty Curriculum Advisory Committee from 1966 to 1968, an executive member of the International Society for Research in Medical Education and then its President in 1973. He brought many innovations to medical education at the U of A including the first Objective Structured Clinical Examination which became and continues to be a standard tool for evaluating clinical skills. He published widely including papers in the Journal of Medical Education, the British Medical Journal, Medical Teacher, the New England Journal of Medicine and the Canadian Medical Association Journal. In 1976 he was appointed to the Editorial Board of the British publication Journal of Medical Education and in 1980 he was instrumental in the establishment of the journal Medicine North America.

In 1988, Dr. Gilbert became a Master of the American College of Physicians at a ceremony in New York City where Dr.Garner King, then Chair of the Department of Medicine, called him “the single most outstanding teacher at the University of Alberta”. Dr. Rod Eidem stated “He was for us the Osler of our undergraduate and postgraduate years”. Dr Marvin Bala, then Professor and Chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan said of him “ wrote: “ I would state first and foremost without any reservation that Dr. Gilbert has been my role model as a teacher over all of these decades. He has demonstrated clinical excellence, lucid and witty, warm and effective teaching whether in the classroom or at the bedside. These have been the ideal in what I have personally tried to emulate. Incidentally his published contributions have been equally effective and appropriate. Dr. Gilbert is certainly among the most respected clinicians in Canada and his reputation goes far beyond Canada’s borders to the United States and the United Kingdom.”

In addition to his reputation in medical education, he was a leading figure in developing approaches to treating alcoholism, in detoxification and in gastroenterology serving as the Chair of the Committee on Gastroenterology of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and as Chair of the Canadian Association of Gastroenterology Committee for the Establishment of the Fellowship in Gastroenterology.

Dr. Gilbert also contributed greatly to hospital and academic administration. He was a member of the Therapeutics Committee at the University of Alberta Hospital, the Long Range Planning Committee of the Royal Alexandra Hospital as well as the Medical Library Committee and Audio-Visual Committee at that hospital. He was Director of the Division of General Internal Medicine at the University of Alberta from 1977 till his retirement and served on committees such as Admissions, Curriculum, Student Evaluation, Graduate Training, Academic Standing, Bio-Ethics and many more.

Never was it more true to say of a man that he was showered with awards – from medical colleges, universities, the creation of an eponymous Chair and finally the nation itself when he was made a member of the Order of Canada on April 17, 1997.

His formal retirement from his full time academic position occurred in 1983 but he continued to work and teach well into his octogenarian years. His impact on the practice of medicine and medical education locally, nationally and internationally was compelling. His influence will be felt for generations to come and his memory will live on as the legend he created as a teacher and physician.