Professor Emeritus Richard Alan Smallwood AO

Influenced by his mother’s work as a doctor in the Malayan Medical Service and in Malay camps during the Second World War, Professor Emeritus Richard Smallwood chose to study medicine at the University of Melbourne.

After graduating MBBS in 1960 and MD in 1964 he undertook further training at the Royal Free Hospital in London and at Boston University School of Medicine. Upon returning to Melbourne in 1970, instead of opting for a traditional clinical career, he was recruited by Professor Austin Doyle into a pioneer team establishing academic medicine at the Austin Hospital in Heidelberg. In this role Richard Smallwood established and directed Victoria’s first adult-centred gastroenterology department. He subsequently became Professor of Medicine, Head of the Department of Medicine and Chairman of the Division of Medicine at the Austin and Repatriation Medical Centre.

Richard Smallwood spent over 30 years teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students for the University of Melbourne. In 1993 he co-authored, with Richard Larkins, Clinical skills: the medical interview, physical examination and assessment of the patient’s problems, a text that has played a major role in the education of medical students. He has published over 250 scientific and clinical papers, focused chiefly in his specialty area of the liver and its diseases.

Richard Smallwood’s extensive Australian and international scientific and clinical work are matched by his distinguished contributions to the advancement of public health in Australia and on the international stage through his involvement in professional and public service organisations. His presidency of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (1996-98) corresponded with his long association with the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Beginning with a position on the Council’s Health Care Committee, he served as a member or chair of several committees and chaired the Council itself between 1994 and 1997. As convener of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences annual ethics seminar series (1993-99), a public forum in which experts and community members examine contemporary issues in medical ethics, the University, the medical and general communities benefited greatly from his enthusiasm for open and informed public debate. He was awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1997 for services to medicine and a Centenary Medal in 2001.

In 1999 Richard Smallwood was seconded from the University to Canberra as Australia’s Chief Medical Officer. His tenure in this position until 2003 covered a period of heightened national and international public and official concern about the risk of bioterrorism and naturally occurring pandemics. He met the community concern arising out of the Bali bombings and American anthrax incidents in 2001, and the SARS epidemic in 2003, with a measured and authoritative response, balancing the national need for security with the public need for credible information. Since 2008 he has been President of the Australian Medical Council, the body which accredits Australian medical schools.

Richard Smallwood’s discerning intellect and geniality enables him to bring people together, to build consensus and garner support for important progress in public health policy. His work for the improvement of health and wellbeing across multiple public arenas has been of great benefit to the nation and to the reputation of the University of Melbourne and its Medical School.