Joseph, Douglas

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MB BS 1947

Douglas Joseph was the Foundation Nuffield Professor of Anaesthetics at the University of Sydney, the inaugural Chairman of the Asian Australasian Regional Section of the Federation in 1970, and was President of the first International Congress of Anaesthetists in Australia in 1970.

Douglas Joseph was born in 1925, the youngest of four brothers who all entered the medical profession. He graduated in Medicine at the University of Sydney in 1947 and was appointed as Junior Resident Medical Officer at Royal North Shore Hospital the same year. He decided to specialise in anaesthesia and in 1950, became the first Registrar in Anaesthetics at Royal North Shore Hospital to train for a postgraduate degree in this specialty. He was encouraged to pursue further training overseas, and in 1952 became Anaesthetic Registrar at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in the same year gaining his Diploma in Anaesthetics RCP & S, London. From 1953 to 1954, he was Senior Registrar and Registrar in Anaesthetics at the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh.

On returning to Australia in 1956, Douglas was appointed as the first Director of Anaesthetics at Sydney Hospital, where he successfully introduced the concepts of the Recovery Room and the Intensive Care Ward. His complete revision of student, registrar and resident medical officer teaching programs, together with his organisation of anaesthetic services in the operating theatres were impressive to all. Douglas subsequently developed a special interest in education, which he later pursued on an international scale. Through his activities as Lecturer in Anaesthesia at the University of Sydney and his work with the Postgraduate Committee of the University, Douglas became aware of inadequacies in the training of GPs who gave anaesthetics, and therefore instituted several intensive annual courses of instruction and clinical work for these practitioners at Sydney Hospital. As Director of Anaesthetics in 1960, he was awarded the Archie Telfer Prize for the greatest contribution to the Hospital. In 1961, the visit of Professor Cecil Gray from Liverpool led to his being offered the Christiana Hartley Research Fellowship at the University of Liverpool, and Douglas took this up in the UK until 1962.

It was largely under the impetus of John (later Sir John) Loewenthal, Bosch Professor of Surgery at the University of Sydney since 1956, that the idea of an academic Professorial appointment in Anaesthetics was conceived, supported by the then Vice-Chancellor Sir Stephen Roberts, although it was originally envisaged to be an Associate Professorship within the Department of Surgery. John Loewenthal, who knew that the University of Sydney had been the first University apart from Oxford to grant an Honorary Degree (Hon LLD) to Lord Nuffield, a wealthy UK industrialist after whom the Oxford Chair of Anaesthesia in England had been named, approached the Nuffield Foundation in London during a visit in 1960, seeking financial support for the proposed new Associate Chair in Sydney.

The appointment was approved in 1962 and in May 1963, Douglas took up this historic position of the first fully autonomous Chair of Anaesthetics ever established in Australia. In keeping with all the other full-time Chairs at the University of Sydney, the new Chair was attached to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. Douglas became Chairman of the Hospital in 1971, a position he held until his retirement in 1989.

With his developing interest in education, Douglas became involved very early in the Faculty of Anaesthetists, Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, and was appointed a Member of the NSW Regional Committee in 1958. He remained a Member until 1984, acting as Chairman in 1971 and 1972. From 1966 to 1978, he was a member of the Court of Examiners of the Faculty, and in 1972 was elected to the Board of the Faculty, and to the Executive Committee from 1975 to 1984. He was elected Vice-Dean of the Faculty in 1978 and Dean of the Faculty in 1980, an office which he held until 1982. He had remained on the Board of Faculty until 1980, thus serving his full 12 years in office. He was elected to the Court of Honour of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 1984, and was presented with the Faculty’s highest honour, the Robert Orton Medal in 1988.

His global interest in education had led him to attend congresses of the World Federation of Societies of Anaesthesiologists quite early in his career, and by 1968, he had become a Member of its Executive Committee and subsequently Vice President from 1976 to 1980. He was also inaugural Chairman of the Asian Australasian Regional Section of the Federation from 1970 to 1974, in 1970 also acting as President of the first International Congress of Anaesthetists to be held in Australia. For his great contribution, the Australian Society of Anaesthetists bestowed upon him its highest honour, the Gilbert Brown Award, and he was further conferred with an Order of Australia in 1988.

With his particular talent for teaching, Douglas was responsible for much recruitment to the specialty of anaesthesia. He was also involved in many other activities of vital importance to the specialty, such as his Foundation Membership of the Editorial Board of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care (1972–1984), the NSW Special Committee investigating Deaths under Anaesthesia (1963–1989), and his membership of the NHMRC Team reviewing acupuncture in China in 1973.

Douglas made an enormous contribution to the specialty of Anaesthetics in Australia and overseas, and was a lasting influence on the anaesthetic community and beyond for over 33 years. Sadly, his many plans for retirement were cut short by his sudden and untimely death on 6 March 1990 at the age of 65. His will left major bequests to the University of Sydney, the Faculty of Anaesthetists and the Art Gallery of New South Wales.[1]

Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Joseph, Douglas. 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.