Dr Kenneth Walter Turnbull, 1937–2022

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 64, No. 9, November 2022, Pages 404-405 Obituaries

Dr Kenneth Walter Turnbull

Dr Ken Turnbull passed away at 84 years of age in Vancouver on 3 July 2022. Born, raised, and educated in Vancouver, he was valedictorian of his high school graduating class and completed his undergraduate degree in civil engineering, his MD, and an anesthesia residency at the University of British Columbia. Following graduation he was appointed at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), where he practised for 30 years, and to UBC, where he was a clinical professor. His practice was broad, and he was involved in all areas, including cardiac anesthesia and ICU care.

Ken will perhaps be best remembered for his ever-constant smile and laugh. He loved his work, his friends, and his family, and brought to all of them a tremendous joie de vivre.

Ken was a passionate clinician, instructor, academic, leader, and mentor. He excelled as a clinician-teacher—he was frequently requested by his colleagues for their own care. One colleague commented, “With his excellent clinical judgment and EQ, Ken could mentor in such a subtle manner that he built confidence in my own dubious abilities. I particularly admired how he never talked down to patients when they were at their most vulnerable.” Another remarked, “Ken was always a delight to be around. He had tremendous good humor and always seemed to be laughing.” Another commented, “I am one of the few younger-generation anesthesiologists who had the great fortune to have him as my medical school mentor and was able to seek his guidance and support throughout my anesthesiology training. He truly was an exceptional clinician, leader, teacher, and mentor. He was also a pioneer in our field.”

Ken was a leader in the VGH department throughout his career; he was responsible for the Visiting Professor Program for many years and was an early leader in the developing field of resuscitation, and much later, of simulation programs in anesthesia. He served on many committees at VGH and as interim head of the VGH Department of Anesthesia. Outside his department, he was president of the BC Anesthesiologists’ Society and a representative to the Canadian Anesthesiologists’ Society’s council in the 1970s. While not a researcher, he had several publications (including co-authoring one on chronic bronchitis as a student, and a significant early patient safety review[1]). He was a popular visiting professor nationally and internationally.

Ken was awarded the Canadian Anesthesiologists’ Society’s Clinical Practitioner Award in 2002; it was only the second time that the award was given and the first time to a BC recipient. He was also recognized with a Doctors of BC CMA Honorary Membership Award in 2016, and he was the recipient on two occasions of the Physician’s Recognition Award from the American Medical Association.

Outside the operating room, Ken was equally known. He had friends all over the world as a result of his passion for ham radio. He was an active flyer, piloting a Republic RC-3 Seabee (an amphibious sports aircraft), flying with friends to lakes around BC for camping and fishing.

Dr Turnbull and his ever-present smile will be sorely missed by his family (Deanna, three children, and six grandchildren) and his many colleagues and friends.
—Richard N. Merchant, MD, FRCPC
New Westminster


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1.    Turnbull KW, Fancourt-Smith PF, Banting GC. Death within 48 hours of anaesthesia at the Vancouver General Hospital. Can Anaesth Soc J 1980;27:159-163.

Richard N. Merchant, MD, FRCPC. Dr Kenneth Walter Turnbull, 1937–2022. BCMJ, Vol. 64, No. 9, November, 2022, Page(s) 404-405 - Obituaries.

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