Rankin, James Gerald d’Arcy

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MB BS 1954 FRACP FRCPC FAFPHM FAChAM (Hon)

James (Jim) Rankin established the first medically-based combined clinical and academic program for the treatment and of study for alcoholism in Australia at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne in 1964.

Jim graduated from Medicine at the University of Sydney in 1954, completing his Residency at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney. During 1956, he was Resident at the Repatriation General Hospital in Concord, and then Resident in Pathology at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital.

In 1957 he joined Royal Prince Alfred Hospital as Medical Registrar, becoming a Fellow in Gastroenterology in 1959. From 1960 to 1961, he was a Fellow in Medicine in the Clinical Research Unit. In 1982 he took up a Visiting Fellowship at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Presbyterian Hospital in New York where he completed 18 months’ research on hepatic physiology and disease.

On his return to Australia in 1963 he was appointed Honorary Assistant Physician at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. However, wishing to pursue a career in academic medicine, he successfully applied for a position as Second Assistant within the University of Melbourne Department of Medicine at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne in 1964, concurrently becoming Honorary Assistant Physician to Outpatients. Later that year, he established the Alcoholism Clinic. He says of this time:

The Sisters of Charity owned St Vincent’s Hospital and were keen to have a clinic started for patients with alcohol problems. The Hospital was located in an area that probably had the highest concentration in Australia of homeless people and people with alcohol problems. Carl de Gruchy, the Professor of Medicine at St Vincent’s at that time, asked me to establish an outpatient clinic for people with alcohol problems… The alcohol field was an unpopular area medically and professionally. However, the Phillips Royal Commission, then inquiring into the liquor laws of the State of Victoria, drew a lot of attention to problems related to alcohol.

Over a six-year period, substantial clinical services and research and educational programs were established. The University of Melbourne’s Summer School of Alcohol Studies was held for the first time in 1966, providing many opportunities for people to learn more about the field and helping to develop an informal network of interested people across Australia. Problems of alcohol use were formally introduced into undergraduate medical education in Australia for the first time at the University of Melbourne.[1]

Jim remained at St Vincent’s Hospital until late 1969, when he was offered a joint posting as Director and Physician-in-Chief of the Clinical Institute of the Addiction Research Foundation of Ontario and Associate Professor of the Department of Medicine at the University of Toronto. For Jim this was an opportunity to retain his interest in alcohol studies but to broaden it to encompass other problems of addiction and community health. When he arrived, the 100-bed clinical research and training centre operated by the Addiction Research Foundation was a year away from completion. Between 1971 and 1978, the Clinical Institute developed a full range of clinical services for the management of “alcohol and drug-related health, behavioural and social problems including emergency, outpatient and residential services”[1]. Under his leadership, a research program was developed on alcohol and drug related problems, including their prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

In 1978 Jim returned to Australia to become the Director of the Drug and Alcohol Division within the Health Commission of New South Wales:

My responsibility was to advise the Commission on alcohol and drug issues, develop new services and improve existing ones… In late 1980, the NSW Government planned to decriminalise public drunkenness and support the new policy with a grant program… One of my main objectives was to create nuclear drug and alcohol programs at least within the major Teaching Hospitals and, if possible, beyond that in major hospitals across the state. We proposed appointments of a medical specialist and senior nurse at the level of Assistant Director of Nursing at each hospital with some additional support staff, such as residents and clerical staff. The major responsibility of these hospital-based staff was to develop a willingness and capacity of the hospital as a whole to respond to problems of drug and alcohol use among their patients.

With the impending dissolution of the Health Commission and the Drug and Alcohol Division in 1982, Jim returned to the University of Toronto as Director of the Canadian Liver Foundation Epidemiology Unit, Professor in the Departments of Medicine and Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics, and Staff Physician in the Division of Gastroenterology at the Sunnybrook Medical Centre in Toronto. In 1985 he again became Head of Medicine and Physician-in-Chief of the Addiction Research Foundation Clinical Research and Treatment Institute.

In 1994 Jim returned to Australia as Chair of the Central Sydney Area Drug and Alcohol Service and as Clinical Professor at the University of Sydney. In 1999 he moved on to work as Senior Staff Specialist in the Northern Rivers Area Health Service to assist in the further development of their drug and alcohol services until his retirement in 2000.

Throughout his career, Jim has also been a key participant in numerous national and international societies, commissions or government committees. He was instrumental in the establishment of and served as the first President of both the Australian and Canadian Medical Societies on Alcohol and other Drug-related Problems. He has won several awards including being made an Honorary Life Member of the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine, Honorary Life Member of the Australian Professional Society on Alcohol and Other Drugs (APSAD), and Honorary Fellow of the Australasian Chapter of Addiction Medicine of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. In 1990 APSAD established the annual James Rankin Oration.

When the new building for Drug and Alcohol Services was established at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, it was named ‘Rankin Court’ in recognition of Jim’s assistance in establishing the services.

Jim remains an Emeritus Professor of Public Health Sciences at the University of Toronto.

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Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Rankin, James Gerald d’Arcy. 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.