Earlier this month, at a Memorial Service, we paid tribute to Professor Sir John Scott, one of the truly great physicians of New Zealand medicine. While he touched the lives of many Professor Scott excelled as a physician, a teacher, a researcher and a medical leader.
Dr Briar Peat had the pleasure of knowing and working with Professor Scott over a period of 20 years. Briar shares her memories of this much admired and loved man.
John Scott was part of number of significant milestones in my medical career. As a medical student, a medical registrar and a young consultant, to me he was always Professor Scott.
Professor Scott became widely known by the public of New Zealand in 1973, when he lead the investigation by the Department of Medicine into what became known as the “Brych affair”, which included a trip “behind the Iron Curtain”, exposing Milan Brych as a fraud and eventually leading to his deregistration by the Medical Council in 1974.
As a researcher, Professor Scott was an expert in the field of lipid metabolism and enjoyed eating pastries, He always said he knew exactly the level of his cholesterol and was allowed to indulge.
He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand (1987), in recognition of his important contributions as a researcher in the field of lipid metabolism and cardiovascular disease, and appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, for Services to Medicine (1988).
After heading the University Department of Medicine, (1979-1987), Professor Scott came out to Middlemore to head the University of Auckland Academic Unit in 1987.
He told wonderful stories of the early days of the Medical School in Auckland, including stories of intrepid young researchers (who all became esteemed professors) ferrying a pig across Auckland in the back of a Fiat Bambina.
The most remarkable story he told me was that as a student at Knox College, he had been one of the chief perpetrators of the greatest UFO hoax in New Zealand history, the “Grand Interplanetary Hoax of 1952”, which completely fooled its intended target, the Otago Daily Times and gained significant international credence. http://skeptics.nz/journal/issues/33/alien-ships-in-our-skies.
He believed strongly in the scientific basis of medicine and spoke out strongly against pseudo-medicine. He believed that decisions should be made on “a basis of roundly presented, soundly analysed, best available information”. He decried “misinformation” and from his early days at Knox College, believed that the Establishment and the media should be held accountable. His dogged pursuit of the truth and his commitment to uncovering untruths lay beneath his somewhat remarkable ability to unearth a number of scandals and controversies in medicine throughout his career.
At Middlemore, Professor Scott’s primary focus was the nurturing of the relationship between the Clinical School and the Hospital and the fostering of a high quality research and learning environment, for which Counties continues to have a reputation second to none. During a period of repeated re-iterations of hospital services nationally, Professor Scott and David Clarke were the first in the country to re-introduce the role of a senior clinical leader, the Chief Medical Officer, of which Professor Scott was the first.
Professor Scott was an astute and caring physician who witnessed, and was part of, the rapid evolution of modern scientific medicine after the Second World War.
His manner with patients always impressed me, Professor Sir John Scott, Knight of the Realm, always introduced himself to his patients as Dr Scott.
Among others, he recounted the miracle that was the introduction of frusemide, before which the only treatments for heart failure were bed rest and digoxin. Despite his deeply scientific leanings, he believed firmly in the Art of Medicine and the care of the patient.
“The craft of caring for patients is a legitimate, scientifically appropriate adjunct to medicine. That role is necessary for the comfort and sanity of human society. Osler said, “good clinical medicine will always blend the art of uncertainty with the science of probability.” ” (1995)
Professor Scott was a remarkable teacher. He was deeply committed to us as medical students and young physicians. His living memorial is the generation of New Zealand doctors who benefited from his wisdom and example.
Dr Briar Peat
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