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Passion for surgery helped countless patients and his students

PHILLIP SYDNEY HUNT, SURGEON, TEACHER. 7-12-1936 3-3-2011

PHILLIP SYDNEY HUNT, SURGEON, TEACHER. 7-12-1936 3-3-2011

PHILLIP Hunt, who played an important role from 1969 in meeting the early challenges of Monash University's youthful department of surgery at Prince Henry's Hospital later at Monash Medical Centre Clayton has died of complications from Parkinson's disease at Brighton. He was 74.

Hunt revolutionised the active management of bleeding peptic ulcers, promulgated a scientific and problem-oriented approach to clinical surgery, and committed himself to teaching undergraduate students and postgraduate trainees in surgery.

The only son of Percival and Dulcie Hunt, he was born at Potts Point in Sydney and raised in Condobolin and Northwood with his sister Elizabeth. He attended Lane Cove Primary School and later the exclusive Shore school (Church of England Grammar), where he excelled in rugby he captained the first VIII in his final year as well as being a prefect and cadet under officer.

His father died when he was 12 his parents had separated so he was brought up in a female dominated family. His passion for medicine and later surgery was nurtured by his paternal aunt, Elle Stephen, who, like her husband (and later their two sons), was a doctor.

Astute medical student colleagues at Sydney University nicked him "Ferdie", after the fictional character Ferdinand the Bull, who would rather smell the flowers than fight in a bullfight an apt allusion to Hunt's calming manner and heart of gold masked by a gruff exterior.

He graduated in 1960 and in that year met his future wife, Mel, who was studying occupational therapy. He completing his residency at Royal Prince Alfred and Royal North Shore hospitals, where he came under the influence of Tom Reeve, who planted the seeds of a future career in academic surgery. He gained the FRACS in 1966 and master of surgery in 1967.

Hunt won a scholarship to study breast surgery at Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, and completed his overseas training at the Roswell Park Memorial Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, before joining Monash.

He quickly made the shift from breast to gastrointestinal surgery at Prince Henry's, and, with the support of others, established Australia's first haematemesis and melaena unit. The unit developed an international reputation for the aggressive early surgical management of bleeding peptic ulcers, leading to a significant reduction in mortality.

At Monash, Hunt came under the influence of Hugh Dudley and with previous encouragement from others, he developed an interest in surgical education. He also embraced Lawrence Weed's concepts of the problem-oriented medical record and enmeshed these into a unique program for 5th year medical students in clinical science. He also nurtured and trained many surgical registrars.

An avid reader, mainly of biographies and Machiavellian philosophy, Hunt was a true "new age guy" of the '70s, helping Mel with the child rearing, nappy changing and inevitable disturbed sleep. He took a keen interest in the education and sporting pursuits of his boys, often taking them on Saturday rounds, followed by "stocking up the pantry" visits to the South Melbourne market.

Three months before his planned retirement at the age of 60, early signs of Parkinson's restricted his mobility. It took some years before a final diagnosis was made, and while he had an initial good response to L-dopa, he was not able to return to full-time surgery. He spent the next few years relaxing at the family beach house at Seaspray and writing several unpublished manuscripts on surgical science and surgical judgment, education and research.

This complemented the publication of what will be his greatest legacy, Clinical problems in general surgery (1991), which he co-authored with Vernon Marshall. Although frail, he was present at the launch of the second edition of the book in May last year, revised and retitled Hunt and Marshall's Clinical Problems in Surgery, edited by Julian Smith and three surgeons for whom he was a significant mentor, Jane Fox, Alan Saunder and Ming Yii.

His socialist and republican views meant he had a nonconformist approach to private practice, but he was committed to the unity of teaching and public hospital surgical practice.

He is survived by Mel, their sons, Hugh, Fergus and Rupert, and two grandchildren.

Bruce Waxman is director of general surgery at Southern Health.


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