Belisario, John Colquhoun

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MB 1926 MSurgery 1926 DDM 1947 MD 1951 FRACP

In 1946, John Belisario established and supervised the first Australian training course leading to the Diploma of Dermatological Medicine and, in 1949, co-founded the Dermatological Association of Australia (AMA), becoming its Foundation President. His wrote his plenary study of skin cancer in Australia, Cancer of the Skin in 1959.

John served as a Resident Medical Officer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney from 1926 to 1928 before pursuing postgraduate studies in Dermatology in the United Kingdom, Germany, France and the United States. On his return to Australia in 1931, he was again appointed to the staff of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital where he rose from Honorary Assistant Physician to later become the Head of the Department of Dermatology and Consultant Physician for Diseases of the Skin. He was also a member of its board of directors for 21 years. Concurrently he held appointments at five other Sydney hospitals and ran a busy private specialist practice in Macquarie Street, Sydney.

Having been an officer in the Militia since 1927, he was appointed Lieutenant Colonel in the Australian Imperial Force soon after the outbreak of World War II and commanded the 2nd/3rd Casualty Clearing station in Greece. For his leadership he was appointed OBE in 1941. After being promoted to Temporary Colonel, he took charge of the Australian General Hospital in the Middle East until 1942, and was then deployed to Port Moresby where he developed the existing hospital into “a large efficient hospital that gave first-class service”.[1] At the same time, he was appointed as Consultant Dermatologist to the AIF, a significant role because of the emergence of disabling skin conditions amongst the troops deployed in the deserts and jungles. For this work he was elevated to CBE in 1945 and was awarded the Efficiency Decoration in 1946. He is said to have “engendered a spirit of camaraderie in each of the units he commanded” and “for many years after the war his Macquarie Street consulting rooms were a meeting place for old comrades on ANZAC Day”.[1]

Returning to Sydney in 1945, he threw himself into the promotion of Dermatology as an academic discipline. Becoming Lecturer in Diseases of the Skin within the Faculty, he was responsible for the instigation and development of the first Australian training course leading to the Diploma of Dermatological Medicine and was its first supervisor. Like him, graduands had previously been required to travel overseas for postgraduate work in this area. John had been the Secretary of the NSW Branch of the British Association of Dermatology from 1932 to 1939 and took up the Presidency in 1945. Four years later, with his colleague Clive Robinson, he formed the Dermatological Association of Australia (AMA) and became its Foundation President.

He was on the editorial board of various international journals and was reported to have been “an omnivorous and believing reader of world dermatological literature and a prodigious writer who contributed to the journals of many countries in all parts of the world from Argentina to Yugoslavia”.[1] In 1959 he published his major study entitled Cancer of the Skin4 which has formed the basis of our early understanding of skin cancer in Australia.

His relentless promotion of Dermatology within the University and the Hospital resulted in the establishment of the John Belisario Institute of Dermatology within the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 1959.

John was elected a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and was appointed CMG in 1968, in recognition of his services to Dermatology and Medicine. He also served as President of the International Society of Tropical Medicine for five years from 1969.

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Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Belisario, John Colquhoun. Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.

An alternate version appears in: Mellor, L. 150 Years, 150 Firsts: The People of the Faculty of Medicine (2006) Sydney, Sydney University Press.