Featured Doctor


Scotland: Rural Hero (1894-1979)

Place of Work

Lochmaddy, Isle of North Uist, SCOTLAND, UK


Dr MacLeod was a Scottish Gaelic speaker and grew up in the Western Isles of Scotland. He fought in WW1, was wounded at Gallipoli and mentioned in dispatches. He graduated in medicine from Glasgow in 1924, losing an eye playing shinty during the course!

Alex MacLeod, also known as ‘Zadok’ and by his patients as ‘an dotair mor’ (the big doctor), served the people of North Uist and surrounding islands for 42 years, from 1932 to 1974 ably assisted by his wife, Dr Julia Macleod. He was a founder member of RCGP in 1952 and became a Fellow in 1969. Initially this was under the Highlands and Islands Medical Service, which became the National Health Service in 1948. He was very active politically within the British Medical Association and was a formidable advocate for rural patients in Scotland on BMA committees from 1947 to 1974.

His working life was very arduous. There were initially few telephones and fewer cars. At one time, there were 16 sea crossings in the practice and many journeys had to be made on foot or on horseback. His wife Dr Julia was an integral part of the practice and he could not have achieved what he did without her. In the first part of his career, the work was mainly acute illnesses including measles, scarlet fever in children as well as TB and trauma, common in all farming and fishing communities. Obstetrics was a major part of his work and he had a reputation as a first class obstetrician. In early days, this meant operative deliveries in homes with no electricity, and occasionally, a Caesarian section. He never refused to visit a patient, even if it meant a journey by boat or even occasionally swimming.

Why a Rural Hero?

He was an innovator in several respects. He worked very closely with a skilled team of district nurses across the islands and, ahead of his time, used a system of triage, where some calls were initially routed to the nurse. He was the first doctor in the Western Isles to make use of an air ambulance in 1933 to take a patient from Glasgow to Uist for palliative care. This was in fact funded by a newspaper, the Daily Record, but the principle was established and an air ambulance service followed. He was also an early advocate for helicopters for evacuation, and was very pleased when these became part of emergency medical care.

When childhood immunisations became available under the NHS in1948, he adopted them enthusiastically, trying them on his own five children first!

General practice in these years was very different to today and his style matched the need for acute, often emergency medical care. He was a big man in every sense of the word and like many rural GPs of his era, made his own path through the medical world. His retirement in 1974 was marked with a celebration that included hundreds of his patients of all ages and all parts of the islands that he had served.

His son John succeeded him in the practice. The respect and affection in which Dr Alex, Dr Julia and Dr John were held was shown by the erection of a memorial in 2012. His life and achievements have been commemorated in a one hour documentary - An Dotair Mor - commissioned by BBC Alba, the Scottish Gaelic TV channel.


Alex J. Macleod manual dilatation of the pelvis Br Med J 1943;2:484 (Published 16 Oct 1943)
A. J. Macleod an unusual presentation Br Med J 1951;1:93 (Published 13 Jan 1951)
A. J MacLeod Addiction to alcohol BMJ 1960; (Published 25 June 1960)1 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.1.5190.1953-a
A.J MacLeod Altrnative to a salaried service BMJ 1965; (Published 27 March 1965) 1 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.1.5438.863-c
Alex J. Macleod Pain in the neck and arm Br Med J 1968;1:767 (Published 23 Mar 1968)
Alex J. Macleod Helicopters and medical emergencies Br Med J 1968;3:184 (Published 20 Jul 1968)

Submitted by John MC Gillies endorsed by The Royal College of GPs (Scotland)