Little, John Miles

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MB BS 1959 MS 1969 MD 1977 FRACS

Miles Little was the Foundation Professor of Surgery at Westmead Hospital in 1978, a Co-Founder of the World Association of Hepatic, Pancreatic and Biliary Surgeons in 1987, and foundation President from 1987-89. He is the Founding Director of the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine in the Department of Surgery at the University of Sydney. He is also a published poet.

Miles Little completed his internship as Resident Medical Officer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH), Sydney. From 1961 to 1964, he was Surgical Registrar at the Hospital and gained his Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 1963. Throughout this time, he also worked in various academic roles, firstly as a Demonstrator in Anatomy and then by 1964, as a Tutor in Surgery to both the Women’s College and St Paul’s College at the University of Sydney.

In 1964 Miles became Clinical Superintendent at RPAH. During these early years at RPAH, he worked alongside Professor John Loewenthal, Frank Mills and Rowan Nicks. He developed a major interest in vascular surgery and, under Frank Mills’ influence, in surgery of the liver, pancreas and bile ducts. In 1966, Miles was awarded the Nuffield Dominion Travelling Fellowship and went to the University of Glasgow to work under Sir Andrew Kay. This time was devoted to training in experimental design and analysis, and in gastroenterological diagnosis and treatment.

Returning to Australia in 1967, Miles became Honorary Assistant Surgeon at RPAH and Senior Lecturer in Surgery within the Faculty (he was made Associate Professor in 1971). With the establishment of Westmead Hospital in 1978, Miles became the Foundation Professor of Surgery until 1996, and Chairman of the Department of Surgery until 1990.

In 1987 he was Co-founder and Foundation President of the World Association of Hepatic, Pancreatic and Biliary Surgeons. This association was established in order to provide an international forum for surgeons and physicians with common interests in diseases of the liver, pancreas and bile ducts. The organisation was particularly determined to encourage medical practitioners from less developed countries to share their experiences with Western physicians and surgeons. The Association has now become the International Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Association, with a large international membership and holding annual meetings.

Until 1996, Miles remained Visiting Surgeon at Westmead Hospital and concurrently practised as a Consultant Surgeon (he was made Associate Professor in 1971). With the establishment of Westmead Hospital in 1978, Miles became the Foundation Professor of Surgery until 1996, and Chairman of the Department of Surgery until 1990. Reflecting back on the early days of the hospital, he says:

The Westmead development was a remarkable opportunity. Bernie Amos (CEO of the project and the Hospital), Peter Castaldi (Professor of Medicine) and I were close friends. We were able to create a medical centre which valued skills in research and teaching as highly as it regarded clinical skills. The legacy of those days can still be seen in the clinical loads the hospital deals with, and in the enormous productivity of the Millennium Institute.

In 1995 he became the Founding Director of the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine within the Department of Surgery at the University of Sydney. Miles’s own personal and professional experiences led him to believe that medicine had “lost touch with its moral base, which has to do with people’s health and welfare and lives in terms of quantity and quality” and that it had become “hung up in sophisticated science, which has become an end in itself”.[1]

Since its inception, the Centre has striven to “stimulate creative thought, dialogue and action by engaging different disciplinary perspectives including medicine and science, public health, philosophy, ethics and bioethics, sociology, social linguistics, psychology, history and law.” The Centre has gained a reputation for its unique and innovative approach to research, education, consultation and for its community outreach activities.[1]

Miles has held several visiting professorships and in 1987, was made an Honorary Professor of Surgery at Sun Yat Sen University of Medical Sciences in the People’s Republic of China. He has been the recipient of numerous national and international awards for his work, including a silver medal from the University of Bologna, a gold medal from the Chinese Medical Association and an award for Excellence in Surgery from the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. In 1993 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for “his services to medicine, particularly in the fields of hepatic and vascular surgery”.[1]

Miles is an Emeritus Professor of Surgery within the Faculty. Within the Centre, he continues to teach and is directing the Cancer Survivorship Project.

Miles has written poetry for a number of years and has published numerous poems in Quadrant, Southerly and Poetry Australia, and a collection of poems with the title Round Trip. Many of his poems have been reflective of his personal and professional experiences with Medicine. Though Miles no longer publishes his poetry, he continues to write it.

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Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Little, John Miles. 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.