‘It’s been absolutely terrific’: 96-year-old GP shares secrets to success

Michelle Wisbey

17/05/2024 12:21:58 PM

Dr John Wiseman is one of Australia’s oldest practising doctors, and as he prepares to hang up the stethoscope, says he ‘has no regrets’.

Dr John Wiseman today and in 1952.
Dr John Wiseman working as a GP in St Kilda, and his graduation photo from 1952.

Australia was a very different place in 1952.
Robert Menzies was Prime Minister, World War II had ended just seven years earlier, and Elizabeth II became Queen of England.
It was also the year Melbourne GP Dr John Wiseman graduated from medicine, and 70 years on, he is still practising.
He has worked with patients contained to iron lungs, practised in cities and in the bush, caught a ride to England as a ship’s doctor, battled against a tuberculosis epidemic, and is now a GP at the Medi7 St Kilda Road practice in Melbourne.
But this year, at the age of 96, he is hanging up his stethoscope in search of his next adventure – leaving the world of medicine which he has loved for seven decades.
‘It’s been absolutely terrific, and I have no regrets,’ he told newsGP.
‘If you always try to make what you’re doing fun, try and get respect, respect the patient, it will roll along.’
For Dr Wiseman, becoming a GP was a profession he fell into after being exposed to science at a young age by his father, who was ‘quite a brilliant scientist’.
‘When I finished year 12, I was lucky enough to get a Commonwealth scholarship, and the scholarship in those days was quite generous … as it paid all your fees and we were given a living allowance, and that was a bit tempting,’ he said.
After graduating, he spent time at the Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital in Melbourne for a placement unlike anything a junior doctor would experience today.
‘That was the most fascinating time – I was a medical officer in the poliomyelitis ward, and poliomyelitis was an epidemic,’ Dr Wiseman said.
‘You had people who had polio and got better, but you had a lot of people who got polio, but they were left with disabilities.
‘Some were very minor, like minor weaknesses, but some were more major, and there was one part of the ward where we still had people who couldn’t breathe, and they actually lived in an iron lung.
‘There was also tuberculosis, which was an epidemic around that time, and there was SARS, so I’ve lived through a few epidemics in my time.’
With itchy feet, Dr Wisemen then hopped on board a boat bound for London, working as the ship’s doctor in a bid to secure a cheap ticket.
He spent six months working at the Central Middlesex Hospital, before returning to Australia.
Then he moved to Morwell in Victoria’s east, where he would spend 16 years raising his growing family and practising as a GP.
‘In those days, it was quite a prosperous little practice. We had four doctors, we were never short of doctors, and that was the start of my GP activities,’ Dr Wiseman said.
‘GPs would do a lot of things that you would never do these days, particularly if you were a GP in a country practice.
‘You had to deliver babies, you had to do a little bit of surgery, you did anaesthetics, you did house calls – it was a never-ending busy time because of the variety of work you had.
‘It was a very board range of things and that’s what kept it so exciting.’
And today, he still sees some of those patients he met in his early career – creating a bond which is both personal and professional.
‘Occasionally, they come down to visit me and it’s a very, very personal relationship and it’s ongoing,’ Dr Wiseman said.
‘And because it’s ongoing, you know them well, so you recognise their little foibles, and they recognise the doctor’s foibles.’
But a lot has changed since Dr Wiseman first stepped foot onto the hospital wards – there has been advances in medicine he could have never imagined, alongside significant societal and cultural change.
Most of all, he said attitudes towards mental health have been one of the most dramatic shifts.
‘For a mental health disorder you did the best you could with what you had, which wasn’t very much, you were a psychiatrist as well as a GP, but now of course, this has become the focus of general practice,’ he said.
‘Also in the early days, changes that occurred in medicine, whether it was technological or therapeutic, it occurred over a fairly long period of time and usually it was a year or two before things became different.
‘Dealing with people now is also a little bit different because they’re more educated, they have more expectations than they had in those days.
‘It’s changed very, very dramatically because people were a little more trustworthy, they had a bit more respect, were less questioning, they trusted what you said, and most times, it was in their best interest and they accepted it.’
Now, Dr Wiseman is preparing to leave the profession, to hand over the reins to the next generation of GPs.
But even as he approaches his 100th birthday, he has no plans to slow down.
‘It’s been great, but there are a lot more things I’d like to do which are not necessarily medical, in fact, I’d like to do other things,’ Dr Wiseman said.
‘I’ve got something that I have to look forward to and that is, how do I recognise my future life and what do I do to make it be fun, and be a bit of a challenge?
‘If you can take that more positive look and say, “what am I going to get out of it”, that’s what counts.’
As he reflects on an impressive and ever-changing career, Dr Wiseman’s advice for young doctors is simple – listen, have fun, and never stop learning.
‘I’m absolutely delighted to have had the opportunities, and I’ve had opportunities that people now probably don’t have, the variety, the choices,’ he said.
‘It’s had some ups and it’s had some awful downs, but overall, it’s the variety, the changes, the relationships you develop, the skills you learn.
‘It’s never a dull life.’
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Dr Ravindrapal Hemchandra Bundellu   18/05/2024 6:58:12 AM

I often wondered who was the oldest practicing GP in Australia
Now I know
Thank you for sharing the wonderful testimony and life experiences of Dr John Wiseman of St Kilda
It took me back to my graduation in 1962 in India
Life was very different then .
Rural India was a far cry from practice in Melbourne
Dr Wiseman’s dedication to his country's and patients will be remembered for many generations
I wish him the very best for his next ambition in life
Hope to see him in person some day

Dr Dhara Prathmesh Contractor   18/05/2024 9:32:20 AM

Thank you for your service doctor Dr Wiseman.
Luminary life of general practice, illustrated with your wide professional experience.
Thank you for the article.

Dr Olataga Alofivae-Doorbinnia   18/05/2024 10:59:40 AM

Hi ,
What a beautiful life story Dr Wiseman and a very apt name. I have been a GP in my local area for 30 years now and enjoy my work and adventures as well ,and Dr Wiseman - you are a trailblazer and enjoy your next adventure!

Dr Catherine Emma Linda Sloan   18/05/2024 12:01:24 PM

“listen, have fun, and never stop learning.“
That is excellent advice, definitely a motto to live by!

Dr Suzanne Joy Baker   18/05/2024 12:15:58 PM

I worked with Dr Wiseman at the Alfred Hospital in the 80's. He was an amazing mentor and may be unaware of the lifelong impact he had on me personally and professionally. I still remember his favourite saying when faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem - "Let the World turn".

Prof Max Kamien, AM. CitWA   18/05/2024 2:47:37 PM

Bravo Dr Wiseman. Perhaps you accomplished so much because you started in an era that was devoid of bureaucratic oversight. Best wishes for your 'retirement'.

Dr Rohit Sood   18/05/2024 3:20:43 PM

What a remarkable man and what a remarkable career.

Dr Gerald Raymond Segal   18/05/2024 3:22:43 PM

Amazed to read this article and that you are still practising. I remember you well from my early days at Chadstone and medical practice was certainly different then. I am still at Chadstone Road Medical and enjoy being a partner now coming up to 50 years. I don't think I will go as long as you in general practice but plan to continue as long as my health and brain hold out. All the very best for your retirement. Regards Gerald Segal

Dr John Brett Deery   18/05/2024 3:51:58 PM


Dr John Joseph Madden   18/05/2024 7:08:20 PM

Inspiring and uplifting - on behalf of all the people you have helped, thanks and best of luck.

Dr Adele Frances Stewart   18/05/2024 8:23:13 PM

Wow, congratulations! How inspiring!

Dr Maureen Anne Fitzsimon   18/05/2024 9:36:03 PM

Oh wow! Just wow! What an amazing life!

Dr Peter James Strickland   19/05/2024 11:11:24 AM

What an absolutely fabulous career, and the longevity of your practice in medicine, John ---and especially your patience in putting up with all the bureaucracy and restriction of your practice freedoms in recent times. As they say, "you did your job for humanity, and you deserve your reflection on that now", and thank-you for that service over such a very long time.