The University of Newcastle, Australia

History of Medicine at the University of Newcastle

The 1970s was a period of significant social and political transformation across Australia. It was a time to be bold, and the establishment of the University of Newcastle’s Faculty of Medicine in 1978 was a leap of faith for the University, its lecturers, students and the region.

At the end of 1974, James Johnson Auchmuty, the University's Foundation Vice-Chancellor, retired. One of Auchmuty's last acts as Vice-Chancellor was to oversee the hiring of Professor David Maddison as Foundation Dean of Medicine who was promised a free hand to create an innovative medical program.

Maddison toured the world to investigate new approaches to medicine and returned with a three principle approach that would revolutionise the teaching of medicine in Australia.

They were:

  • patient-centred medicine
  • problem based learning
  • alternate pathways to entering a medical degree

Maddison was passionate about creating a program that would produce what he called a ‘new breed’ of doctor. The degree would focus on community involvement and close interaction with medical practitioners and hospitals. The formation of the program was also spurred in large part by the support of the Newcastle community, many whom were passionate advocates for the establishment of a medical school in their own region.

The University’s medical program accepted its first students in 1978, with the first medical students graduating in 1983. Tragically, David Maddison passed away suddenly of a heart attack one year earlier, in November 1982. David Maddison's address to the first intake of Medical students on the 6th of March, 1978 can be heard here.

Not only was the University’s Bachelor of Medicine the first degree in medicine to be established in a non-metropolitan Australian university, it was also the first to adopt a problem-based learning approach – a new and challenging concept in 1978.

From the beginning, the University also led the way in its selection of medical students. While other schools across the country were assessing students based on high school academic performance only, the University initiated a new selection process based on a combination of attributes – academic performance, a psychometric test and a personal interview.

The University was also a trailblazer in Indigenous health, with the Discipline of Indigenous Health established in 1984 as the centre for Australia’s first special Indigenous medical education admissions program.

In 1990 the first two Indigenous doctors graduated from the Bachelor of Medicine, and many more followed. The positive effects of the University’s decision to recruit and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to study Medicine are still evident today, with almost one-in-three practicing Indigenous Australian doctors graduating from the University of Newcastle.

Rural experience was also a founding philosophy of the medical program, and long before other institutions were looking at the health needs of rural communities, the University of Newcastle was sending students into hospitals in regional centres.

This focus on teaching and learning in rural environment helped address the serious medical workforce shortage in regional and rural Australia.

The program’s expansion to the Joint Medical Program in 2008 was a true indication of the School’s continued ability to evolve and adapt to meet the needs of the community.