Amos, Bernard John

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Bernard (Bernie) Amos was the first General Superintendent of Westmead Hospital when it opened in 1978. He later became the Director General of the New South Wales Health Department.

After graduating with honours in 1959, Bernie Amos spent his early years at Royal North Shore Hospital. He progressed, with extraordinary speed, through being a Junior and Senior Resident Medical Officer to becoming Medical Registrar, then Clinical Superintendent, all within the first four years of his medical career. His rapid achievements at Royal North Shore enabled him to pass his Membership of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1963.

Although he never developed a medical specialty, his interest and flair for planning and administration were apparent and in 1964, he became Director of Medical Services working under Professor Roger Vanderfield. Bernie’s role was upgraded soon after to the position of Deputy Chief Executive Officer. A significant focus for him whilst he was at Royal North Shore was his role as Deputy Chairman of the Planning Committee overseeing the building of a new hospital for Royal North Shore, experience which later enabled him to take on his work with Westmead Hospital.

He remained in touch with the practical aspects of practising medicine by continuing to tutor students (even after he had commenced work with Westmead Hospital) and was also engaged in a program which saw him consulting in rural areas of Australia.

His flair for planning was utilised in various ways at Royal North Shore: Aside from his work roles, he was President of the Resident Medical Officers Association and, as a keen sportsman himself, Chairman of the Inter-hospital Sports Committee.[1] As the establishment of the new Westmead Hospital became a reality, Bernie chose to leave Royal North Shore and to “lead the Westmead project”. Longtime colleague Peter Castaldi gives the following account:

[The Westmead Project] increasingly occupied him as the 1970s progressed. We don’t not know if he actually spoke to Prime Minister Gough Whitlam about the declining budgets but he must have been pleased to hear the admonition from the PM to Premier Askin – “if you don’t build it we will.”

The opening of Westmead Hospital in October 1978 was an affair of State attracting the presence of Premier Neville Wran, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Bruce Williams, and many other dignitaries. With the formalities over, the doors opened to admit an overwhelming influx of patients seeking medical attention. Bernie planned and oversaw the progressive provision of beds as nurses and doctors were enrolled and appointed so that by 1980 Westmead was fully functional.

By then in 1978, he was recognised for his skills in health management based on his Royal North Shore experience and his clinical orientation. As General Superintendent of Westmead Hospital from the very beginning, he was in charge of the booming enterprise as Miles Little, Chris Hudson, Alan Langlands and Peter Castaldi began their clinical services. They were later joined by the paediatrician Neil Buchanan. Bernie was also responsible for Mental Health and the Community Health Services. He consulted continuously and his staff had the benefit of his restraining hand as they strove to build up every conceivable ‘ism’ and specialty.

His talent for health planning led to consultancies in the Middle East, and places like Qatar, the Emirates and Bahrain became part of the Westmead talking circuit. He and his community medicine chief Gary Andrews gained a glimpse of these empires where new hospital structures and clinical developments were the legacy. He developed a great friendship with Cres Eastman, the endocrinologist, who had fostered a program of iodine replacement for deficiency states initially in Sarawak in Borneo. As Cres Eastman’s influence expanded to China it was clear that more official support was needed. So it came about that Peter Anderson, the Health Minister, Neil Gilbert, board Chairman and Bernie Amos CEO and their wives travelled to China to meet the dignitaries and smooth the path of international collaboration. Some of their journeys in the mountains were less than comfortable but they were brave and the cause was just.

Before ending his time at Westmead, Bernie implemented the Charitable Trust of the Hospital that ensured support for the academic disciplines. As a result, Westmead Hospital became truly competitive on the national scene and is still reaping the benefits through the Millennium Institute and the research hub with the Children’s Hospital. During the 1980s, Bernie was President of the NSW Medical Board, Chairman of the state committee of the Royal Australian College of Medical Administrators and on the Executive of the Australian Medical Council.”[1]

Bernie left his role at Westmead Hospital and became Director General of the NSW Health Department, a position he remained in until his retirement in 1993. However, he remained active after his retirement and continued to support the Medical Board, the Centenary Institute, the Health Ministers Council and various other consultancies in international health planning.

Bernie was twice honoured with an Australian Award for his “service to medicine and to the development and delivery of health care services in Australia and Asia”, first being made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1988 and then an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1994.[1]

Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Amos, Bernard John. Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.

An alternate version appears in: Mellor, L. 150 Years, 150 Firsts: The People of the Faculty of Medicine (2006) Sydney, Sydney University Press.