Benjamin, Bruce Neil Proctor

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[[category:Biographies] MB BS 1956 DLO FRACS FAAP FACS (Hon)

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Professor Bruce Benjamin is described as “a pioneer in ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgery”. He was the first ENT Registrar at Sydney Hospital, and the first in Australia to use the CO2 laser for ENT surgery. He was Foundation President of the Australasian Society of Paediatric Otolaryngology in 1993 and designed the Benjamin jet tube for anaesthesia during microlaryngoscopy.

After graduating, Bruce was initially a Junior Resident Medical Officer at Royal North Shore Hospital. In 1957, he moved to St Vincent’s as a Senior Resident Medical Officer followed by a year as Pathology Registrar, mostly doing post mortems. Next, he had the unexpected opportunity to become the first ENT Registrar at Sydney Hospital. His colleagues declared his decision to be “crazy” and to have “no future”, saying that surely antibiotics would cure tonsillitis, otitis, sinusitis, etc. Their assessment of the future was most certainly invalid. In fact, the operating microscope was already on the drawing board and ENT surgery was about to expand into unimaginably exciting fields such as microsurgical reconstructive middle ear surgery, laryngeal microsurgery, and laser procedures. In the mid 1970s at Sydney Hospital, the ENT department received the second coherent laser off the Boston assembly line, and Bruce was the first in Australia to use the CO2 laser in the airways of both adults and children and in head and neck cancer surgery.

In his progress in medicine as an ENT surgeon, Bruce’s initial hospital appointment was to RAHC Camperdown in 1961 as an Honorary Medical Officer and his first list was ‘six T’s and A’s’ – all recommended for operation by another surgeon. After the Hospital moved to Westmead, he stayed on there for several years, finally becoming a Consultant in 1999, thus serving a total of 40 years. In the 1960s, paediatric Ear Nose and Throat surgery was mainly concerned with removal of tonsils and adenoids, sinus washouts, drainage of suppurative conditions and removal of foreign bodies in the oesophagus and tracheo-bronchial tree. The latter was often a hazardous, uncertain, hair-raising adventure, but is now much safer and more controlled.

In 1961, Bruce became an Assistant ENT Surgeon at Sydney Hospital doing a diversity of ontological, nasal and paranasal, pharyngeal, laryngeal and neck cancer surgery. He was elevated to Consultant in 1985. Later, a position became available at Royal North Shore Hospital, and Bruce worked there happily for 15 years, principally in adult laryngeal and upper airway diseases. Besides his public hospital duties, he also worked at St Luke’s Hospital.

During his time in practice there were undreamed-of improvements in clinical skills, diagnostic accuracy and surgical precision. Endoscopic visualisation using fibre optics is now further refined by using telescopes, precision tools and endoscopes for patients of all ages from very low birth weight to adults. The indications for operative interference are more stringent. Patient safety is paramount. The management of acute or acute-on-chronic airway obstruction in children and adults, whether of a congenital, acquired or inflammatory nature, demands close cooperation with an experienced anaesthetist. At Sydney Hospital the Benjamin jet tube, an innovative anaesthetic tube for adult micro-laryngoscopy, was developed; it still remains in use 25 years later.

Five years after commencing consultant ENT practice in Macquarie Street, Bruce made numerous yearly visits to North America, attending courses and gaining a wider experience in the swiftly-developed and fascinating field of laryngo-broncho-oesophaglogy in both adults and children. The latter had been a neglected topic until the 1970s and 1980s. This paediatric sub-specialty had developed so rapidly that the American Society of Paediatric Otolaryngology, of which Bruce is a Foundation Member since its inception in 1985, now has more members than any other American ENT association. Bruce has also been a member of another four “of these learned ENT societies”.

His keen interest in photography combined with application of the superb rod-lens telescopes and the Karl Storz endoscopic equipment enabled Bruce, over a 30-year period, to improve the photographic documentation of the pharynx, larynx, tracheobronchial tree and oesophagus in health and disease. The slides and photographs have been utilised in many ways to illustrate lectures, teaching publications, posters and other presentations including over 100 scientific journal articles and 21 chapters in textbooks. Bruce has written or edited five major reference books and atlases, three as solo author.

A number of highly regarded honours have been bestowed on Bruce. He served on committees with the Sydney Hospitallers, the Shepherd Centre, and the Royal Flying Doctor Service; and he was Chairman of the Otolaryngological Society of NSW. He is or has been on the Editorial Board and a Consultant Reviewer of nine medical journals. The Bruce Benjamin Medal was inaugurated and presented at the Australian Laryngeal Meeting at Sydney Hospital in June 2000.

At the University of Sydney, he lectured to undergraduates on diseases of the Ear, Nose and Throat and was then Lecturer in Laryngology for ten years, followed by an appointment as Clinical Associate Professor, which was later upgraded to Clinical Professor of ENT/Head and Neck Surgery. At a postgraduate level, he was Secretary and of Chairman of the Board of Otolaryngological Studies. The latter became the NSW Regional Subcommittee of the RACS and was charged with the administration of ENT Registrar training in NSW. For six years, Bruce was on the Federal Surgical Board in ENT Training, which he felt to be both a stimulating and worthwhile responsibility. In addition and as a separate program, he began a Fellowship in Paediatric and Adult Laryngo-broncho-oesophagology which was a hands-on training position for Fellows to become familiar with the techniques of endoscopy and anaesthesia that Bruce and his colleagues developed in Sydney.

Professor Bruce Benjamin retired in 1999.[1]

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Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Benjamin, Bruce Neil Proctor. 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.