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Westmead Clinical School opens its doors to mark 40 years

30 October 2018
Embedding research and education into clinical care

In 1978, the University of Sydney established the Westmead Clinical School and the Sydney Dental School in Westmead Hospital. Forty years on, the precinct has grown into Australia’s largest concentration of health facilities.

Artist’s impression of the Central Acute Services Building at Westmead

The design and planning for Westmead Hospital began in 1968. The late Professor John Read, a Professor of Medicine, and the late Professor John Loewenthal, then Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, provided the impetus for the creation of the Westmead Clinical School, and promoted the concept of a major referral centre providing excellent clinical care while also supporting research and teaching.

Other University of Sydney staff were extensively involved in the planning of Westmead Hospital from the outset, and they too projected extensive research and teaching requirements. The hospital admitted its first patient on 10 November 1978. The first students from the (then) Faculty of Medicine arrived in small numbers in 1979, and were attached initially to Community Medicine, Paediatrics, and Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 

Now, the precinct incorporates the former Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, now known as the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, as well as the Children’s Medical Research Institute and the Westmead Institute for Medical Research.

The University is investing in the next major development stage for Westmead, with a new acute services building due to open in 2020. The new hospital building will provide services for both Westmead Hospital and the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, and the University will occupy a central space over two floors. Westmead Clinical School now has more than 1500 alumni.

Professor Louise Baur AM, FAHMS is the current Head of the Clinical School in the Children’s Hospital at Westmead Clinical School – adjacent to the (adult) Westmead Hospital.

“I was in the first group of students to come to Westmead Hospital from Concord Hospital, in 1979,” she says. “We came to Westmead to do our obstetrics and gynaecology term.

It was a wonderful experience. We lived in at the hospital – the first students to do so. The midwives and obstetricians looked after us beautifully. At the time, there were no midwifery students at the hospital, but more and more babies were being born each week. So we had lots of hands-on experience delivering babies and seeing women in antenatal and postnatal clinics and wards. I so enjoyed the experience, I decided to come back to Westmead as an intern in 1981.”

The University has had a strong continuing academic commitment to Westmead, emphasising the integration of clinical care, teaching and research. In 1980, Professor (now Emeritus Professor) Miles Little AM was appointed as the first Sub-Dean of the Clinical School. Professor Little had also been appointed Foundation Professor of Surgery at Westmead in 1978. Professor James Gibson, a Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, served as the first and only Warden of the Clinical School from 1986 to 1991.

Professor Gibson’s role was later filled by others who saw the enormous importance of teaching and encouraged students in the clinical environment. Professor David Harris, a renal physician, was one of these.

“Since I first joined Westmead as a registrar in 1982, I have enjoyed watching the Clinical School mature and the privilege of being involved,” he says. “It’s wonderful to see the school taking advantage of the exciting new opportunities that abound for its students.”

The present Head of the Westmead Clinical School, Professor Tania Sorrell AM, arrived in Westmead in August 1979 to establish the first Infectious Diseases Unit within an internal medicine unit in Australia.

“This was an exciting and daunting challenge for a relatively recent postdoctoral clinical researcher, made easier by the support and mentorship of the late Professor Peter Castaldi AO, the foundation Professor of Medicine at Westmead,” says Professor Sorrell. “The Westmead community was like a new and optimistic family, which subscribed to the vision of embedding research and education in clinical care.”

To mark its 40-year milestone, the Westmead Clinical School will host an open house on Thursday 8 November. Current and former students will join key members of the school to welcome hospital visitors and provide an insider’s view of clinical training. Everyone is welcome.

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