The first medical students to graduate with a West Australian degree celebrated their 50th anniversary this year with a reunion of doctors who have gone down very different paths.
The graduating class of 1959 reunited at the Weld Club earlier in the year.
“Included in this group are (recipients of) Order of Australia Awards, Past Presidents of Royal Australian Colleges, Clinical Professors, A.M.A chairmen and dedicated country practitioners,” Dr Isaac Raiter, known as Ike, said.
The group are Dr Neil Fitch, Dr David Formby, Dr John Hanrahan, Dr Malcolm Hay, Dr Owen Isbel, Dr Nicholas Kraw,
Dr Mashie Levi, Dr Terence McAuliffe, Emeritus Professor Con Michael, Dr Ike Raiter, Adjunct Professor Bryant Stokes and Clinical Professor Timothy Welborn.
“Michael Kraw came especially from Canada and David Formby from Victoria,” Dr Raiter said. “We mourned Charles Picton Warlow, Barry Killerby and David Walters.”
Adjunct Professor Bryant Stokes, Consultant Neurosurgeon, said the group started their medical degree in 1954, when first year consisted of physics, chemistry, botany and biology.
“There were 120 I think in that first year and only approximately 18 passed,” he said. For their second, third and fourth years, two went to Melbourne and one to Sydney while 15 headed for Adelaide, returning to Perth to complete fifth and sixth years. It was the first cohort to gain the MBBS from UWA.
There had been only two years of WA graduates before them, in 1957 and 1958, but they gained their degrees officially from the University of Adelaide – although 18 of them were admitted ad eundem gradum to the UWA MBBS degree at a ceremony in 2007 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Medical School.
“The thing that impressed us most of all when we came back was the overwhelming welcome that we received as medical students from virtually all of the public hospital staff and also all of our teachers,” Adjunct Professor Stokes said.
“We were unique as they hadn’t had medical students really significantly before and the teaching at fifth year level going into sixth year was new to the hospitals.
“The downside I suppose was the fact that we felt we were always a bit under the microscope, as it were, because there were so few of us.”
The teaching was undertaken by the Foundation Professors and their staff and consultant doctors. “The consultants had not had much teaching experience and I think they were just as nervous as we were but they really threw themselves into it all,” Adjunct Professor Stokes said.
The Medical School was a small building in Victoria Square, beside Royal Perth Hospital and the students rotated through various hospital departments but there were no rural electives.
“In the obstetric field, we had to have 20 deliveries in a term.”
The department of anatomy was set up for students in later years in old demountable buildings which were formerly the headquarters of the US Catalina flying boat squadron based in Matilda Bay.
“Their aeroplanes were on the hardstands in the Royal Perth Yacht Club,” Adjunct Professor Stokes said.
The first cohort of medical students to graduate from UWA, 50 years ago, was encouraged to spend time in the community that they would eventually be helping.
Adjunct Professor Stokes said all the Professors, but particularly the Foundation Professor of Surgery, Cecil Lewis, promoted the idea.
“We had an afternoon a week off in which we went and mingled with other areas of the community,” he said. “We went to the prisons, to the meatworks, and to vineyards and that was quite interesting,” he said with a laugh.
“It was to try to get us to understand there were people out there who were working and doing various things.”
However, students of today probably had a greater understanding of Indigenous issues, which was likely to reflect the fact that the whole of Australia had a better understanding, Adjunct Professor Stokes said.