Dods, Sir Lorimer Fenton

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MB 1923 ChM 1923 MD 1936, FRACP, Hon DSc

Sir Lorimer Dods was the Foundation Professor of Child Health at the University of Sydney in 1950. This was the first Chair of Child Health or Paediatrics in any medical school in Australia. He was a pioneer in the development of children’s medicine as a specialty.

Born in Brisbane in 1900, Lorimer was educated at Southport School and Sydney Church of England Grammar School before graduating in Medicine from the University of Sydney in 1923. He completed his training first at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH), Sydney, then at Newcastle Hospital. His first position at RPAH was as Resident Pathologist under Professor Sandes in the surgical wards, and to the Pathology Department. He then took up an appointment as Senior Resident Officer at the Newcastle Hospital, but continued some work in pathology. This was in the early days of insulin use and Dods is said to have “often recalled the responsibility of doing blood sugars”.[1] His role at Newcastle Hospital brought him into contact with many children and, realising how little he knew about them, he sought a position at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children (RAHC) in Sydney. After a year at the Children’s Hospital, he spent six months in England furthering his studies, before returning to General Practice in Edgecliff. The friends and contacts he had made during his student days, his early hospital days or through skiing at Kosciusko (Lorimer was a champion skier) remained loyal to him, and he was often called to give anaesthetics at the Hospital. He rejoined the Hospital as an Honorary Staff Member in 1927. According to a colleague:

Slowly children became prominent among his patients and he began to write splendid articles for the Medical Journal of Australia. Here was shown a clear, thoughtful, scientific mind and a beautiful fluent pen. His doctorate of medicine for a thesis on cyclical vomiting came in 1936.[1]

In 1937 Lorimer also began paediatric practice in Macquarie Street, Sydney. With the outbreak of the Second World War, however, Lorimer enlisted in the 1st Australian General Hospital, serving in the Middle East until the conclusion of the War, and achieving the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. Returning to Australia, he resumed paediatric practice, as well as beginning his academic career. D G Hamilton records:

In 1946 he became lecturer in Children’s Diseases in Sydney. He was physician to the Duke of Gloucester and his children when he was Governor-General, and was made a Member of the Victorian Order. A further overseas tour followed and he was enormously impressed by Sir James Spence in Newcastle-on-Tyne and by the American development of specialities within paediatrics. He came back and one by one took several of us young physicians aside, told us of these advances and asked us which of them we would like to develop in our hospital. The stimulating effect Lorimer had on young men was one of his greatest contributions.[1]

In 1949 the Commonwealth Government established an Institute of Child Health and a Chair to accompany it within the University of Sydney. Sir James Spence was apparently “emphatic that no-one better than Lorimer could be found for this new dual responsibility”.[1] During the term of 10 years, Lorimer paid much attention to undergraduate teaching, established significant research projects and played an advisory role to other Australian Universities as they began to develop their own Departments of Child Health.

From the perspective of the fifth or final-year students in the 1950s, Lorimer was an extraordinary role model. The atmosphere in the hospital was strongly influenced by his own courtesy and respect for his small patients and their families. Coming from adult environments in which visitors were limited to a small number of strictly enforced visiting times, we students found it refreshing to see parents and siblings comforting and playing with the patients during the day and early evening. Students were treated with courtesy and respect, encouraged to take an active role in picking up and comforting distressed children, and to engage in play with any who were mobile in the ward. He showed by example how to communicate with patients of different ages, and with their parents. From his broad knowledge and experience, his tutorials were genuinely interactive, ranging over wide aspects of the discipline. He made opportunities for open discussion and stimulated the exploration of ideas. Although himself not a prolific researcher, he saw research as the future of the discipline, encouraging those who were interested to undertake a small project during their Paediatrics term.

Wallace Grigor was a young resident officer under Lorimer in the 1950s and recalls Lorimer’s care for colleagues, patients and their families:

[Paediatrics] was a new world, contrasting as it did to the far less personal one of more adult medicine. A sick child was not an isolated person but one of a family unit, the welfare of which was very much part of the management of the child himself… Despite the serious nature of the illnesses of the many of his little patients, his ward, Lower Todman, was a happy one – and there were many aspects which made it different from other wards. Parents were present for long periods, were encouraged to nurse and feed their children and to do simple tasks, all of which gave security and confidence to both the child and parent. Easy access to medical attendants, including the Professor was always available. While in the present era this may all a sound unremarkable, it was almost unique in the 1950s…

His rounds were stimulating and at times exciting, and were often attended by prominent physicians and research workers. His staff were quickly accustomed to seeking advice from the best person in any given discipline to ensure that diagnosis and treatment of the many difficult problems in his ward were of the highest possible order.[1]

In 1958, with the strong support of the RAHC Medical Superintendent, John Fulton, Lorimer established the Children’s Medical Research Foundation. This began with Australia’s first telethon and with the ongoing support of friends and colleagues. Once Lorimer had established the Foundation, however, serving as its founding Director required more and more of his energy and time. Hence, in 1960 he resigned from his University Chair to turn his focus fully to the Children’s Medical Research Foundation.

Lorimer was knighted in 1962 for "services to medicine, especially in paediatrics".[1]

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Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Dods, Sir Lorimer Fenton. 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.