Dalgarno, Marjorie Clare

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ChM 1925 MB 1925 Marjorie Dalgarno started the first radiology practice in the suburbs of Sydney. She performed the first mammogram in Australia at the Rachel Forster Hospital in Sydney in the 1950s.[1]

Marjorie was born in Sydney in 1901, the eldest of the four children. She gained an exhibition to the Faculty of Medicine at Sydney University and went into residence at the Women’s College, assisted by a scholarship.

After graduating in 1925, she worked as Resident at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and began work in the X-ray department. At RPAH, she met Mollie Cronin and Sister Lena Hardy who became lifelong friends and associates.

In 1928, she married Harold McCredie, who was in general practice in Campsie. The following year, she began her own radiological practice in their family home. According to her daughter, Janet McCredie, she installed a small machine in the dining room and turned the laundry into a darkroom for processing films. She also had a portable machine which she used at the bedside. In 1939 she was appointed to the Rachel Forster Hospital and the Renwick Hospital for Infants. When war broke out, she also began working at the Western Suburbs Hospital. Even in these early days, working alongside Dr Kathleen Cuningham in the Breast Clinic at the Rachel Forster Hospital, Marjorie was closely following the research emerging from the United States of America on soft tissue radiography and recognised the potential application here in Australia.

She continued her practice at Campsie and was joined by Dr Mollie Cronin as partner. In 1949, they opened a small practice in Macquarie Street as well. According to her second partner Dr Jean Edwards:

The rooms had once been a health studio and the old seat box was fitted with rails and used as a dryer. It was very efficient. A small area at the back was the home of numerous cats, and it was a common sight each morning to see a white coated doctor chasing them out with a broom. Blasting for the Eastern Suburbs railway caused a great deal of noise and the old building would shudder with each explosion, patients were reassured with “it’s only the battle of Martin Place”. Eventually the building was demolished and the practice closed.[1]

In the early 1950s, Marjorie began using mammography for the diagnosis of breat lumps at the Breast Clinic at the Rachel Forster Hospital. With meticulous care, she recorded the images of each case with its clinical details and pathology report. She used this material to teach other radiologists from Australasia about the potential of diagnostic mammography. She also commenced a study of women from gynaecology outpatients who had not presented with breast symptoms. In this first study of 1000 women who had no symptoms but had agreed to be screened, four cases of cancer were found in the very early stage, before a lump could be palpated. However, the X-ray machines needed modification in order to reduce the radiation dose, before population screening for breast cancer could be justified. She realised that the real benefit of mammography would lie in being able to find and treat breast cancer at this early stage. Unfortunately, it was to be nearly 30 years before the technology and engineering associated with mammography was sufficiently developed to implement her vision.

Jean recalls what it was like to work alongside Marjorie in the Campsie practice:

Her practices were happy places. Over the years she gathered around her a splendid band of technicians. Many were trained at the practice. When I started work I asked if she had anything particular that she would like me to do. She thought a moment and said “Not really, I’d like you to be here all day, on your days, it gives good service to the local doctors; and it’s a good idea to have a word with every patient, even just to say hello. They like to see the doctors. We all have lunch together, doctors and staff.” She taught me that there was more to radiology than looking at films, and that the doctor was the same as any other member of the team. We all took turns at setting up enema trays, polishing the brass plates and going for the lunches. Campsie was a sort of radiological general practice and the happy atmosphere was due to Marj and her loyal long term offsider Sister Margaret Blackburne, who ran the office, did the books, trained the technicians, took X-rays, and kept her three doctors in order.[1]

Working in Campsie all those years, Marjorie knew many of the residents and their families so that walking down the street with her was like a ‘Royal progress’ as she stopped to talk to shopkeepers, her patients and their families and the patients her husband saw in general practice.

The house that Marjorie and her family lived and worked in is now listed as a heritage item under one of the local environmental plans in Canterbury Local Government Area.[1]

Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Dalgarno, Marjorie Clare. 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.