Lives of the fellows

Robert Frank West

b.23 June 1912 d.1 April 1998
MB BS Adelaide(1935) MRCP(1937) MRACP(1939) MD(1947) FRACP(1952) FRCP(1963)

Robert Frank, or ‘Bob’, West was a consultant physician in Adelaide, Australia. He was born at Kaniva in western Victoria, where his father, Gordon Roy West, was in general practice. Bob’s older brother, Leonard Roy West [Munk's Roll,Vol.VI, p.454], also became a doctor.

When the family moved back to Adelaide Bob entered St Peter’s College and then studied medicine at the University of Adelaide. He graduated in 1935, being awarded the Everard scholarship for achieving the top position in his final year. Following his year in residence at Adelaide Hospital he went to England, working his passage as a ship’s surgeon. In London in 1937 he gained the MRCP. Returning to Adelaide, he was among the first candidates to successfully pass the new MRACP exam.

In 1940, following the outbreak of the Second World War, he joined the Australian Army. He was appointed as a regimental medical officer and saw service in Palestine and north Africa, where he took part in the battle of El Alamein. He later returned to Australia, where he helped defend the northern territories against invasion by the Japanese. In 1943 he was admitted to hospital with encephalomyelitis. After a prolonged convalescence he was discharged unfit early in 1946.

The war had demonstrated that he had considerable administrative skills, which were displayed later in his career. Like other colleagues whose careers had been interrupted by war service, Bob established himself as a consultant physician in Adelaide. He began service in the by then Royal Adelaide Hospital. From 1947 to 1952 he was honorary medical officer in charge of the resuscitation clinic. He was later appointed honorary assistant physician and then honorary physician. When the honorary system was abolished he continued as a consultant physician until reaching (at that time) the statutory retiring age of 65. He continued in private practice until he was 74.

He was intelligent, practical with a quick brain, and highly regarded as a physician. As a lecturer in medicine at the University of Adelaide he was a respected and effective teacher.

He was one of two staff representatives on the committee planning and supervising the rebuilding of Royal Adelaide Hospital in the 1960s. This involved ensuring that the smooth running of this major teaching hospital with a thousand beds was uninterrupted while building work was carried out.

He served as chairman of the Royal Adelaide Hospital Medical Staff Society and was a member of several committees of the National Heart Foundation (South Australia division) and the state committee of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. He was one of the early members of the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand when it was formed in 1954.

He travelled extensively after the War. By 1950 he was back in London. At the Royal Postgraduate Medical School he observed a flame photometer built by the Hospital. Returning to Adelaide he brought with him the parts and details for it to be assembled. This served the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science (in its function as laboratory to Royal Adelaide Hospital) for many years. Visiting the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota in 1956, he saw its cardiac diagnostic services and the open heart surgery programme. He became a strong advocate for the development of these services at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. They were introduced in 1960.

He married twice; first, in 1938, to Constance Gerrard, and, secondly, to Anne Chibnall, by whom he had a son Robert, born in 1964. With Anne’s illness and early death Bob became a sole parent. As a young man he had been regarded as peppery. Over the years this had mellowed considerably but with the birth of his son, life took on a new dimension. Always gregarious, he became a family man and devoted his life to his son.

Peter S Hetzel

(Volume XI, page 615)

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