Professor Anthony Radford: A passion for general practice

Amanda Lyons

15/07/2019 2:53:52 PM

Professor Radford reflects on an almost 60-year career which has taken him throughout Australia and all around the world.

Professor Anthony Radford.
Professor Anthony Radford has had a long and distinguished career in general practice.

‘I was about 15 when I first felt I should become a doctor,’ Emeritus Professor Anthony Radford from the College of Medicine and Public Health at Flinders University, told newsGP.
This was perhaps unsurprising, given an illustrious family background in which two uncles and one aunt were distinguished GPs, with both uncles eventually becoming Presidents of the RACGP and one – Dr Monty Kent-Hughes – going on to become President of the World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA), all of whom offered their nephew encouragement to follow their footsteps into medicine.
However, Professor Radford’s ambition for medicine was further cemented at the age of 17 when Dr Paul White visited his school to speak about his work as a missionary doctor in Tanzania (then Tanganyika).
‘I wanted to work in an area where there was a greater need of doctors than in urban Australia,’ Professor Radford said.
Both desires were achieved midway through his training as a GP in South Australia, when he attained a cadetship that bound him to four years’ work in Papua New Guinea after graduation.
Professor Radford, his wife Robin, a social worker, and their children ended up staying in the country, often in remote and isolated conditions, for 10 years.
‘In one area I was the only GP – and doctor – for up to 50,000 people,’ Professor Radford said.
During those 10 years, Professor Radford worked hard to contribute to the health system of PNG, including in the establishment of a program in rural medicine at the country’s fledgling university.
He also experienced many unique situations and challenges – even encounters with royalty.
‘I once discussed snake bite with Prince Charles while walking along the road from Kokoda when he was a school boy visiting PNG,’ he said.
These years in PNG were just the beginning of a long general practice career that would see Professor Radford work in five continents and more than 45 countries with a number of global organisations including UNICEF, the World Health Organization and World Vision. The projects he was involved in ranged from developing and implementing medical education programs to direct engagement with clinical issues from village to reference hospital level, work he feels has helped to make a genuine difference.
‘Being involved in training and use of a variety of healthcare workers in a range of situations has resulted in far wider distribution of care, especially to the poor and isolated, than might otherwise have occurred,’ he said.
Professor-Anthony-Radford-article.jpgProfessor Anthony Radford teaches a nurse practitioner to do a skin graft in an open-air clinic in Nicaragua, 2008.

Professor Radford’s work around the world has certainly resulted in many interesting stories from the field.
‘I have conducted clinics in many unusual places such as clearings in the jungle, on a canoe on the Amazon River among piranhas and alligators, in Alaska over a metre of permafrost, and teaching a nurse practitioner how to do a split-skin graft with the patient outside on a table, there being no light in the house,’ Professor Radford said.
‘In Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia I consulted in a yurt tent, fashioning a splint by whittling a piece of soft pine for a girl with a broken forearm whose plaster had come off.
‘I have also performed a hysterectomy on a woman with a ruptured cervix, and who suffered a coagulation dysfunction mid-operation, amid a swarm of white ants from the roof of the theatre.’

Professor Radford has also worked throughout Australia, starting from his first position as a GP locum at Eudunda in SA through to his role as Emeritus Professor at the College of Medicine and Public Health at Flinders University, with much research, training of future doctors and clinical work carried out in-between.
‘For 20 years at Flinders, using all this experience, our department created the most extensive undergraduate program in general practice, public health and behavioural science available in Australasia,’ Professor Radford explained.
‘During this time I maintained clinical work in the A&E [accident and emergency] department and general practice.’
Professor Radford has also contributed significantly to the RACGP, serving on the board of RACGP SA&NT for many years, and also as a member of the preventive medicine committee and aged care coordinating committee.
And instead of slowing down in the last 20 years of his career, Professor Radford decided to work as a locum in rural and remote SA, where he made an effort to learn not just about individual patients, but about the communities he visited as a whole.
‘For example, if there was a rural show or local football on when I was there, I would go along,’ he told The Senior last year.
‘Many people stop just for petrol when travelling through the country but I had a week to explore the history and places of interest as a member of the community, even if only for a short time.’
Professor Radford kept a diary of each trip he made, eventually resulting in the book Have stethoscope, will travel: A doctor at large in rural South Australia – his second, following Singsings, sutures and sorcery: A 50 year experience in PNG which was published in 2012.
As a recognition of his work, Professor Radford was this year named a Member of the Order of Australia in the general division for significant service to medical education and to global health.

In considering the impact of receiving the honour, his response was straightforward and unassuming.
‘It was really humbling to realise that some of your colleagues believed that your contributions were worthy of recognition in this way,’ he said.
And when reflecting on his long and rich career, which has seen so many places throughout the world and changes in the general practice profession, he is as thankful for his family as he is for his work.
‘How tremendously satisfying it has been, and only made possible by the continued support of a wonderful wife and family,’ he said.

General practice research GP Profile

newsGP weekly poll What are appropriate public health measures should COVID cases spike and the healthcare system be placed under further pressure?

newsGP weekly poll What are appropriate public health measures should COVID cases spike and the healthcare system be placed under further pressure?



Login to comment

Nell de Graaf   16/07/2019 11:59:10 AM

Anthony is a truly humble and inspiring person.
I experienced his teaching on a public health and tropical medicine course for 3 weeks over 10 years ago and found what I learned prepared me well for work in Zambia and PNG.Having his wife Robin involved in the course helped look at providing support to our whole person and family working cross culturally.They have both given such much to so many and truly deserve an award!Well done Anthony

Associate Professor John Dey   16/07/2019 10:56:37 PM

Like you I was deeply influenced by Paul White as a boy of 8 and felt a clear vocation to Medicine after listening to his Sunday afternoon broadcasts on 2CH Sydney in the 1950’s about his missionary work in Tanganyka. I had the privilege of meeting him 30 years later and was able to thank him personally for the inspiration he provided me with to study Medicine.

Graeme banks   18/07/2019 8:01:21 PM

Dr Radford is amazing, but few gp ‘s today could emulate his deeds due to lack of opportunity to learn real skills.

Rosemary Wearing   16/09/2019 8:17:04 AM

I have read both of his books one covering 50 years of pioneering medical work in Papua New Guinea and the second book tracing his years working as a Doctor in rural South Australia. I have also known him personally over 60 years and have always found him an inspiring person to know. . Based on this combination of personal knowledge and following his extraordinary life as a medical pioneer and Innovator in all sense of the word, I have always considered him worthy of acclaim and inspiration to future medical workers. It was also important that he had at his side an outstanding and loving wife, Robin. His Award is an acknowledgement that he has been the greatest unsung (and intrepid ) medical pioneer across 45 countries that Australia has produced.