Featured Doctor

MURTAGH, Prof John

Australia: WONCA leader

Professor John Murtagh, AM MD BSc BEd FRACGP DipObstRCOG, is the author of several internationally adopted textbooks including John Murtagh’s General Practice which has been translated into eleven languages and is available in hard copy and electronically.

Murtagh J. John Murtagh’s General Practice. 5th edn. Sydney: McGraw Hill, 2010. ISBN13: 9780070285385 ISBN10: 0070285381

WONCA recently asked Prof Murtagh to write a small amount about his impressive career.

Where do you currently work?

My current work takes many interesting forms which are all related to my privileged vocation as a family doctor. Apart from my work as a general practitioner, I have part time teaching responsibilities in the Departments of General Practice/Family Medicine of three universities and work as an author of several textbooks or electronic programs. 

Can you tell us a little about your past work?

My initial university degrees were in science and education at the University of Melbourne. My professional career started as a science-mathematics teacher but I soon redeveloped a long held ambition to become a rural doctor akin to the family doctor from my home town in rural Australia. I was fortunate to be admitted to the new medical school of Monash University where I obtained my degree in medicine and surgery. I was one of the first graduates who was admitted to the Family Medicine Program of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and I also trained as a surgical registrar.

I eventually entered general practice in the small farming community of Neerim South, Victoria with my wife who was a medical gradate of the university of Melbourne. Working in a new bush nursing hospital we were able to provide an almost complete service to the community because of our complementary skills of surgery, anaesthetics, obstetrics, paediatrics and emergency medicine. 

Of all the wonderful experiences the one that stands out is working full time as a country doctor where I became very close to the patients and was able to care for them around the clock. In a sense we were dependent on each other and enjoyed the interaction as sole doctors to the community. It was a special joy to work as a team with my spouse. The country was rugged, mountainous, bush land and this suited my passion of bush walking and exploring and snow sporting activities. I have also had the privilege of undertaking locum work in remote areas including King Island off the southern coast of Australia. 

How did you come to write and be an medical author?

Based on my educational background I was invited to write educational programs (particularly CHECK) for the RACGP and provide a rural teaching base for the Department of Community Medicine at Monash university. After 12 years, I moved to Melbourne to became a full time senior lecturer at the University. Another interesting role was that of medical editor of the RACGPs flagship - Australian Family Physician. Following an approach from McGraw Hill publishers I began a career as a medical author. This initially involved producing books such as Cautionary Tales, Practice Tips and Patient Education which I had developed and serialised in the journal.

In 1993, I was appointed Professor of General Practice and Head of Department at Monash and retired, in 2002, following which I concentrated on post graduate teaching and authorship with part-time family practice. As Emeritus Professor I continue to teach both undergraduate and postgraduate students. 

What have you enjoyed about your involvement with WONCA?

I have relished the wider intellectual camaraderie of family doctors throughout the country and around the world. I attended my first WONCA meeting, in Mexico City, in 1974, and last year I experienced the honor of presenting the Wes Fabb oration at the Asia Pacific WONCA meeting in Cebu. Wes is a good friend and ran a country practice only about 100 km across the dividing range from Neerim South. I continue to be amazed at the universality of medical problems and the excellence of care from Family Doctors in all parts of the globe. WONCA promotes this great fellowship.