Alison Thornley (BSc Medicine, 1976) was a brilliant and hardworking student, with an extraordinary ability to communicate with her patients and set them at ease. Following Alison's early death, her parents set up a bursary award and later, a gift from their estate, designed to have a lasting impact on aspiring medical students.
The brilliant student
Medicine was the perfect career choice for Alison. She excelled in her studies due to a combination of her academic talents, perseverance, and sheer hard work. Alison was also a brilliant all-round athlete and talented tennis player; she played at Junior Wimbledon, represented the University tennis team, and coached at Edgbaston Priory. As a doctor, she had a gentle bedside manner and was once described by a patient as "the kindest doctor they'd ever met," a source of great pride to her parents.
A top student at the Medical School, she was awarded the Peter Thompson Prize in Anatomy in 1973 and chose as her prize a bound copy of her favourite book, The Lord of the Rings. On the back of a photograph of herself with the prize (above) which she gave to her parents, and perhaps reflecting on her own fortune in attending medical school, she quoted Demosthenes (Olynthiac 2): "Fortune is indeed a great weight in the scales, I might almost say it is everything in human affairs."
However, the stress of excelling academically and lifelong perfectionism took its toll on Alison. She struggled for more than 10 years with anorexia nervosa which she was never able to overcome, dying at the age of 26.
Her parents' gift
Kay and Tony Thornley were so proud of Alison's achievements, and set-up the Alison Thornley Memorial Bursary in her memory immediately after her death. Kay Thornley, Alison's mother, had always been fascinated by medical matters, but never had the opportunity to attend university due to her family's economic situation, and the outbreak of World War 2. Years later, when Kay died in 2020, she left a donation from her estate with the specific intention of providing support for less advantaged students wanting to study Medicine. With the help of this gift, the Thornley family hopes to help a diverse group of students graduate as supportive, kind doctors, using their knowledge to communicate with their patients and put them at ease.
The current student
Halimah Khalil, a final year medical student who has received Pathways to Birmingham funding, which is partly funded by gifts in wills, says: 'This has helped me to fund extra educational activities and materials, for example going to conferences which can be expensive. Medical students can often struggle to find the time and money to take part in these, and part time jobs can be difficult because of placements.
'I have been hugely involved in the Birmingham Widening Access to Medical Sciences society teaching basic healthcare, and inspiring others to become a doctor or nurse. When I heard about the gift to support students like me in Alison's name, I felt honoured. I believe that patient care is at the heart of what we do, and gifts like this mean the next generation of doctors are recruited based on their academic skills and caring nature, and are not held back by financial constraints.'