Hendry, Peter

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MB BS 1938 DMed honoris causa (Newcastle)

Peter Hendry was the first Clinical Pathologist at Royal Newcastle Hospital and established their first blood bank, becoming the foundation Director in 1947.

Peter entered Medical School in 1933, graduating five years later. Like other students, his first three years were spent studying the basic sciences, and it was not until his fourth year that he was introduced to pathology. He was fortunate enough to be able to study with the Foundation Professor of Pathology, Professor Welsh. According to Peter, “pathology was not at that time highly regarded by most members of the medical professions” and was considered the “Cinderella of the medical school”. After graduating, Peter was posted to Prince Henry Hospital at Little Bay (the Coast Hospital) as a Junior Resident Medical Officer. The hospital’s main function was the treatment of patients with infectious diseases. Peter notes that even though penicillin had been discovered, it was difficult to obtain in Australia until 1943. Hence infectious diseases were still treated conservatively, the range of common illnesses to be treated including poliomyelitis, diphtheria, measles, rubella, scarlet fever, mumps and venereal disease. It was a challenge for a first year medical resident, but he acknowledged that it gave him the opportunity to develop his early skills in blood slide diagnosis of disease. Although this time at Prince Henry Hospital ignited his desire to become a surgeon, the declaration of war changed his plans.

In 1940, he enlisted in the AIF and in 1941 was deployed to Malaya. Following surrender in 1942, he spent three and a half years as a Japanese prisoner of war, spending much of one year on the Burma-Thailand Railway. This experience gave him insight into the bleakness of humanity, and introduced him to a new range of infectious illnesses and the ingenuity of some doctors as they made do with meagre supplies to treat patients with various ills, including Malaria. He says:

I saw little apart from a malarial parasites and the occasional diphtheritic ulcer, which the pathologist found in various skin ulcers. Malaria, of course, was common and we learnt about the rapid staining of blood films with Field’s stain. Dr Snow, a colleague of Dr Field who had performed the rapid stain for malaria, the test that was named after him, was in our camp. It was he who introduced us to the stain.[1]

After the war, he returned to the Coast Hospital as resident pathologist. The war had changed the perception of pathology so that it was now seen as necessarily co-existent with other facets of medicine. To quote Peter:

During the years up to the beginning of the war pathology… was housed in out of the way hospital buildings rarely visited by clinicians. The pathologist usually confined himself to anatomical pathology, which consisted of performing post-mortems and examining the tissues removed, as well as those from surgical operations. Other pathology examinations such as microbiology, biochemistry and haematology… were almost invariably performed by technical staff. During the war the medical importance of these other examinations and particularly their interpretation began to be recognised, so much so that by the end of the war there had emerged a new entity, the Clinical Pathologist as distinct from the Pathologist, who was responsible for these sub-specialities.[1]

In 1947, Peter was appointed Clinical Pathologist and Director of the Blood Bank at Newcastle Hospital. His immediate role was to “update the hospital blood transfusion service to a regional blood bank”. His position was also unique in that as a clinical pathologist, he was not only in charge of blood transfusions, but also for all the intravenous work carried out in the hospital. He “not only controlled the supply of blood, but its use”.[1] In 1956, Peter commenced private practice but retained a role as part-time Director of the Blood Bank at the Royal Newcastle Hospital until 1968.

Concurrently, in 1952 he became involved in the World Association of Societies of Pathology and through his involvement in Quality Control was elected as Secretary of the Commission on World Standards (from 1960 until 1969). In 1969 he was elected Vice President of the Association, serving as its President from 1972 to 1975. He was also President of the World Congress of the Association held in Sydney in 1975, and was presented the prestigious Gold Cane for his service to the Association during the 1983 Congress in Japan by the Crown Prince, now Emperor. In addition, he was Foundation Member and later Treasurer of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australia and Foundation Chairman of its Committee on Continuing Education. He was President of the College from 1974 to 1975 and was elected Fellow of the College of American Pathologists in 1966.

Peter Hendry has received numerous awards including being made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1985. He became the Life Governor of the Australian Postgraduate Federation in Medicine in 1987. In 1988, he was awarded Doctor of Medicine, Honoris Causa and was awarded Doctor of the University, Honoris Causa in 1995, both from the University of Newcastle.

Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Hendry, Peter. 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.