Ian Clifford Farmer
1944 - 2014
From a young age Ian had determined to become a surgeon. When he achieved his aim in 1978, surgery was considered to be a career based mainly on technical skills. Ian, however, was ahead of his time. With the new millennium, surgeons around the world have realised that the profession of surgery requires much more than the ability to operate. Ian Farmer, throughout his life, demonstrated an enlightened humanistic approach to both patients and colleagues.
Currently the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons expects all surgeons to be proficient in a wide range of non-technical competencies to balance their medical and technical expertise. Ian Farmer, through his strong sense of altruism, was quick to adopt and demonstrate many of the attributes that make for an excellent all-round surgeon.
As a medical student he worked in the highlands of PNG, where he helped the locals by delivering medical care as well performing research on the effects of altitude on haemoglobin.
After graduating and working as an intern at Launceston General Hospital, Ian travelled to the United Kingdom where he trained in surgery and obtained his FRCS Edinburgh in 1975. Before returning home to Australia, he and his wife Pam worked for 6 months in South Africa at the Tsolo Mission hospital. Here they cared for the people of the area and during this time Ian developed extra skills in the management of obstetric emergencies and trauma.
Back home Ian completed his FRACS including a position as surgical registrar at Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital in Melbourne. This was followed by 20 years in private surgical practice in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Once again Ian's general skills and attitude came to the fore with his extraordinary commitment to the Lilydale Hospital. For many years he was a member of the hospital board and held the position of President for 7 years. Throughout this time he maintained a busy surgical practice as well as regular weekly teaching sessions for University of Melbourne students at the Austin hospital. Ian was awarded the coveted Paul Harris Fellowship by Rotary for his humanitarian work.
In 1990 Ian took up a position as surgeon with the Red Cross. This led him to Afghanistan where he worked for 3 months in a hospital in Kabul. This hospital, staffed by volunteers, cared for the civilian victims of one of the country's many wars. He and his team worked long operating sessions with limited equipment on patients suffering horrific injuries. During his stay in Afghanistan, Ian's method of time keeping proved to be somewhat idiosyncratic in that he kept his watch on Eastern Australian Standard time.
His return to Australia proved to be a turning point in Ian's career. He learnt to fly. This soon provided a means for ready access to rural Australia and the provision of locum surgical services to centres in need of relief. Over the last 15 years, Ian worked as an expert surgical locum in rural and regional Australia. This involved many different centres including Echuca, Sale, Dubbo and Rockhampton. At each of these institutions he impressed nursing and medical staff with his honesty, humility and humour.
His rural work led him to become a valuable member of the Provincial Surgeons of Australia. It was at the PSA annual conference that Ian delivered definitive papers on locum surgery.
During these years, he was able to maintain a strong teaching commitment. Ian was one of the early instructors on CCrISP courses. These are run by RACS for surgical trainees to reinforce the skills needed for the management of hospital patients. Ian's regular support and involvement exemplified his commitment to the education of his colleagues and trainees.
Ian was a fine man and a fine surgeon. He epitomised the attributes required of a modern surgeon with a strong sense of seeking the welfare of others. His work as a scholar and teacher and advocate for his community sets an example for all surgeons.
He is survived by his wife Pam, and Sarah and Andrew and nine grandchildren.
Ave atque vale
David Birks FRACS