December 9, 2022

Professor Hamish Ewing: Interesting times

When Professor Ewing was appointed as the inaugural Associate Professor of Surgery at PANCH, a storeroom was hastily converted into an office for him.

It was thought that the small doorway would not be wide enough to accommodate the large oak desk he wished to bring, so it was enlarged to two full length glass doors. “Much to the hospital engineer’s dismay, my large oak desk arrived in ready to assemble pieces. I got an office though with a lovely view of the garden outside!”

It marked the beginning of what Professor Ewing describes as “interesting times.”

Professor Hamish Ewing has just retired after a chequered career. In thanking him, Chief Executive, Siva Sivarajah spoke of his dedication, “to clinical improvement and teaching since you began your career at PANCH as Associate Professor of Surgery in 1989.”

“Your dedication has led to the establishment of academic programs and activities, computerised audits and a breast service, at a time when single speciality services were unknown in the health service. Your academic contributions to medical students, trainees and Fellows are well recognised by Northern Health staff who remain grateful for your significant contribution in establishing the Northern Health, University of Melbourne Medical School.”

Hamish says the post of inaugural Associate Professor of Surgery was, “a personal challenge. I was young (41 years) and was not only replacing a much-loved and skilled senior surgeon, but also had the daunting prospect of being the first ‘University Man’ at the busy Preston hospital where all the consultant staff were senior in years to me.”

He was delighted to discover that he had joined a team of surgeons, receptive to significant changes that could be made to improve education and service delivery.

This role came at the time PANCH was to be closed and the new Northern Hospital was being designed. “This meant active input into our new hospital design and visiting the vacant building site on Cooper Street that was then covered with thistles and some remaining dry-stone walls.”

The Director of Surgery role became a much more structured role when Northern Health was established. “I was a member of the hospital executive and could bring clinical issues to this forum. It also meant that I could bring the challenges of the executive directly to the surgical workforce ‘at the coalface’.  A bit of a balancing act at times,” he says.

“Northern Hospital was inundated with work from day one. Specialty surgery services were developed with significant workforce increases at all levels for me to manage, both from a budget and human resources point of view. Quite different from PANCH days.”

One such development was the formalisation of a breast service – one of the first health services in Melbourne to create a truly integrated program.

“Yet another giant step forward at the time was the Breast Care Nurse position funded by a special grant. In addition to these multidisciplinary meetings, we also held a breast clinic which meant all the team would be in attendance at the ‘one – stop’ clinic. All very exciting,” says Hamish.

Another was the enhancing of the surgical audit tool at Northern Health, originally developed at PANCH. This tool facilitated surgical quality care meetings and was designed to also comply with the surgical registrar trainees log-book requirements.

In 2011, the University of Melbourne changed the six-year undergraduate degree, to a four-year graduate entry MD program. This change to the curriculum included an expanded GP experience to be delivered at only two new outer-metro clinical schools, Northern Health and Western Health. Professor Ewing was appointed as inaugural Director of Medical Student Education at Northern Health.

“The MD program has three clinically based years, with students returning to central hospitals for Children’s and Women’s Health. At Northern Health, we had all of these specialist services at our hospital and our campaigning led to the whole of the three-year clinical program being delivered at Northern by our medical staff.”

However, Northern Health did not have a space big enough to cater to the increased number of students.

“The student quarters consisted of two small rooms near the library which were crammed with shared lockers. Limited university funding was made available and two purpose-built de-mountables were delivered to create our first real home as ‘The Northern Clinical School’ (now housing Hospital-in-the-Home).”

The first home of the Northern Clinical School.

Hamish says seeing “the evolution of a health service from a desperately busy (& tired old building) community hospital in Preston to the new multi-campus Northern Health of today has been amazing.”

“The big and ongoing highlight for me is contact with people I have had across my 33 years of involvement at Northern: patients and their families, all manner of staff who make our service tick, nurses, students and doctors alike. My big reward, and affirmation of my career, is to meet these people years later in all manner of venues (even caring for my own health!) having progressed in their careers and life in general.”

He believes the challenge, as the health service is constantly getting larger and more complex, is to “achieve a sense of community to make it a wholesome and friendly workplace.”

“My thanks go to you all for being part of my journey. I am very proud of Northern Health and will be cheering from the sidelines into the future. Please say ‘hi’ should you ever spot me in the street, as it makes my day!”

We join Mr Sivarajah in wishing Professor Ewing the very best in his retirement. As he said, “On behalf of Northern Health and the generations of students you have mentored – thank you!”

Professor Ewing and students
Teaching staff of the Northern Clinical School in 2013
Professor Ewing and the Teacher of the Year 2012 A/Prof Doug Crompton