Lives of the fellows

John Henry Alpers

b.3 April 1936 d.2 November 2007
AM(2002) MB BS Adelaide(1959) DCH Lond(1971) FRACP(1972) FRCP(1979) FRCP Edin(1979)

John Henry (known as Jack) Alpers was born at Mannum South Australia. He was tall, slim, athletic and cheerful all his life. He died of leukaemia at his home in Glen Osmond, South Australia. He received a Membership of the Order of Australia in 2002 in recognition of his contributions to teaching and clinical care in respiratory medicine and the Vice Chancellor’s Award from Flinders University in 1998 for outstanding teaching. The Burns Alpers Prize for contribution to excellence in clinical teaching to Flinders University medical students is awarded annually by the undergraduate students.

His father, Philip Alpers, was a general practitioner who married Monica Graebner. His surviving brother, Michael, is a distinguished medical scientist. His wife Elizabeth Ann (n´e Woodgate), whom he married in 1960, is a psychologist. There are three children: Sarah, John and Liza.

Jack was educated at Mannum and St Peter’s College Adelaide before doing undergraduate medical training at the University of Adelaide and St Mark’s College where he was President. He obtained credits or distinctions in his final year. In 1960 he was an intern at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and from 1961 to 1962 he was physician-in-charge at the Talasea General Hospital, Papua New Guinea. This experience was undoubtedly a defining one for both Jack and his wife.

Post-graduate physician training took place at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and the Royal Post-Graduate Medical School, Hammersmith, London where the physiologist Moran Campbell influenced him greatly. Further training and experience in respiratory medicine took place in Denver, Colorado, the Institute of Child Health, London, and in Mt Hagen, Papua New Guinea. He later spent some time at McMaster University in Canada.

In 1976 he was appointed Head of Respiratory Medicine and Deputy Head of Department of Medicine under John Chalmers at the new Flinders Medical Centre/Flinders University. He was also consultant to the Repatriation Hospital Daw Park between 1972 and 2001. He retired from his unit head position in 2001 but continued teaching as well as running a medico-legal practice with an interest in asbestosis. Public health issues which concerned him included occupational lung diseases, asthma and home oxygen. He published prolifically in international journals. Bedside teaching, a broad understanding of pathology and physiology and the medical curriculum were some of his passions. For some years he was chair of the Fourth Year Curriculum Committee, chair of the Curriculum Committee and Associate Dean.

He was a member of the South Australian College of Respiratory Medicine from 1982 to 1985 and an examiner for the written and clinical exams. He was sub editor for the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Medicine from 1982 to 1989. He was president of the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand from 1980 to 1982.

Jack was very popular with his peers as well as the students, physician trainees and his patients. His outside interests included Australian Rules football, cricket, golf, tennis, bridge, hiking, camping and farming. He dominated the Department of Medicine cricket team into his late sixties! Jack had a strong sense of social justice. He was a superb physician maintaining a broad knowledge base and had the ability to show and teach genuine compassion.

R Burns

[Reproduced, with permission, from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians’ College Roll]

(Volume XII, page web)

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