Lives of the fellows

Bruce Ashley Higgins

b.17 December 1931 d.9 October 2004
MB BS Adelaide(1955) MRCP(1964) MRACP(1965) FRACP(1966) FRCP(1982)

Bruce Higgins was a consultant physician at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Adelaide, Australia. His untimely death when out racing his dinghy was a terrible shock and remains a tragic loss to all who knew him.

Bruce was born in Adelaide, where he went to school at St Peter's, but when his father's promotion required a family move to Sydney, Bruce was transferred to Cranbrook. He was a good scholar and had no difficulty gaining entrance to Adelaide University Medical School. At school he also excelled at athletics, rugby and swimming, and can be seen in many of the photos of teams adorning the walls of Cranbrook. In Adelaide he represented the university at rugby and later played for Old Collegians.

He graduated in 1955 with internships at the Royal Adelaide and the Adelaide Children's Hospital, and almost immediately signalled his intention to specialise by seeking overseas experience, travelling to England as a ship's doctor. In England he first worked as a resident medical officer at Bradford Royal Infirmary, a very happy choice for it was there that he met his partner for life, a nursing sister, Nancy, whom he married in 1960. They went on to have four sons: Malcolm, Peter, Sandy and David.

He then obtained a number of teaching hospital appointments. During his time at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in London he was involved in research into calcium metabolism and metabolic bone disease and this continued to be of particular interest to him throughout his career.

Bruce returned to Australia in 1964 and initially worked as a registrar in the renal unit with Jim Lawrence at a time when the first renal transplants in Australia were being carried out in that unit by Peter Knight. Bruce became a senior visiting medical specialist in the Queen Elizabeth's department of medicine in 1966 and remained on the staff of the hospital until he retired from it in 1996. Despite a very busy private practice where he consulted in endocrinology and general medicine, he distinguished himself in caring for patients in the hospital's endocrine clinic, which he established in 1984, and with Bob Burston he created the first facility of its kind in Australia, the Queen Elizabeth diabetic house.

A distinguishing feature in Higgins practice of medicine was his humanity: each individual was regarded as an individual, not a disease. He was one of the first to recognise that a judgemental attitude was not appropriate in the management of morbid obesity. Much of the research which he carried out in those years was to do with morbid obesity and its management with a combination of surgery and drugs.

Bruce was not only a hospital or clinic physician, his medical knowledge and practical assistance was available to all around him and a great number of his friends and acquaintances have benefited from the concern and care which he lavished upon them.

His professional life was rounded off by service to his colleagues, and in fulfilling teaching and other commitments. From 1967 to 1974 he was honorary secretary to the postgraduate committee in medicine at the University of Adelaide, and in 1974 he was appointed to the executive committee of the South Australian Postgraduate Medical Education Association and was chairman of that committee from 1977 to 1981. From 1977 to 1985 he was also chairman of the committee of postgraduate studies at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and during the same period also a member of the council of the Australian Postgraduate Federation in Medicine. There is enough in this list to indicate the high level of esteem in which he was held by his peers and of course he was on a number of other committees at different stages of his career. He was also an examiner for the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and since 1996 an examiner for the Australian Medical Council.

As if all this wasn't enough, Bruce took up the sport of sailing in 1971 and put his heart and soul into learning how to be an excellent sailor. At different times he was president of the South Australia 420 Association, the Australian 420 Association and finally commodore of the south Pacific region of the world body. Perhaps what few will know of Bruce was his bravery: despite having a left arm severely weakened by an obscure neurological condition which he developed in the early 1990s, he would always go out, even in the heaviest of conditions, and give it his best shot, when many of the rest of us were looking for an excuse to stay on the beach. His absolute determination to finish races no matter what, or how long it took, was renowned.

Bill Leckie

(Volume XII, page web)

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