2024 | Volume 25 | Issue 1

As the recipient of the 2023 Hugh Johnston Travel Grant, urologist Dr James Churchill used the grant to elevate his specialist expertise treating patients with rare urological cancers.

Dr Churchill is a 2012 graduate from the University of Melbourne, Faculty of Medicine and became a Fellow in 2021.

Expressing gratitude, Dr Churchill acknowledges the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) for this valuable opportunity. "The grant is instrumental for gaining unique international experiences and is valued by new Fellows,” he says.
Leveraging the grant, Dr Churchill pursued post Fellowship training in Urologic Oncology at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester, UK. His experience focused on penile cancer, multidisciplinary and robotic pelvic oncology and complex retroperitoneal cancers including sarcoma.
Driven by his interest in rare urological cancers, Dr Churchill embarked on a 20-month Fellowship at The Christie, solidifying his expertise in the field. Reflecting on his experience at The Christie, he highlights the exposure to a high volume of rare cancer cases in a centralised system.
The surgical challenges and skills I learned were eye-opening. I saw many patients with rare cancers—not often seen in Australia—gaining valuable knowledge and surgical skills not available in Australia or the Asia-Pacific. The way that services are centralised in the NHS means that The Christie has developed significant expertise in these areas, and I was fortunate to learn how they manage several rare urological cancers,” he says.
At The Christie, Dr Churchill developed their penile cancer research program, earning recognition at international conferences and publishing in peer-reviewed journals. He was awarded at the European Association of Urology (EAU) conferences in 2022 and 2023, including receiving the second prize for Best Video Abstract in any field in 2022.
“It was rewarding to showcase cutting-edge urological surgical techniques at the largest European and American Urology conferences and to contribute to our knowledge in penile cancer,” he says.
While in the UK, Dr Churchill developed his surgical experience and enriched his professional and educational skills through programs at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. He is completing a higher degree in clinical education at the University of Edinburgh.

Bringing back his expertise, Dr Churchill aims to enhance outcomes for patients with rare cancers in Australian centres and improve penile cancer research.

Alongside his main public and private practice in Port Macquarie on the New South Wales mid-north coast, he is a visiting medical officer at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse in Sydney, providing specialised knowledge for patients with penile cancer and other rare urological conditions.
Dr Churchill’s interest in surgery dates to his early years of medical training. “My positive experiences during surgical rotations, particularly under the guidance of a wise mentor at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, sparked my fascination with surgery and research.
“My early exposure to Urology during pre-vocational years at the Austin Hospital in Melbourne revealed its appeal and the complexity of the discipline. Urology addresses both simple and intricate issues, blending medicine, surgery and technology in a unique way. For me, this is the ideal specialty,” he says.
Dr Churchill encourages newly qualified surgeons to apply for the RACS grant. “A period of international post-FRACS Fellowship training broadens your perspective before settling into practice, offering a unique chance to gain valuable expertise and bring back vital knowledge to benefit patients in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.

“The College generously supports Fellows with this grant, emphasising its purpose in enriching the local surgical community and improving our standards of care.”

Dr Churchill finds Port Macquarie's lovely setting conducive to a fulfilling lifestyle. "It's straightforward to find work-life balance in Port Macquarie, enjoying family life at the beach and outdoors on weekends," he says.