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Hospital 125th: Pioneering doctors at Palmerston North Hospital

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Doctors were scarce in early New Zealand and often had to cover a lot of ground to tend to their patients.

The work was demanding and often dangerous. Many doctors did not live into a ripe old age.
By the time Palmerston Hospital was established in 1893, the Board had managed to hire two medical officers, who were salaried at £50 each per year. They were surgeon Dr John MacIntire, who was well known in the area, and Dr Thomas Porter.
John Henry Lee MacIntire was born in London in 1855 and educated in Jersey in the Channel Islands. He was registered as a medical practitioner in UK in 1876. The vocation tends to run in families and his father was also a doctor.  A surgeon/anaesthetist he arrived in New Zealand around 1884 and began practising at Palmerston North. MacIntire died in Palmerston North on 31 May 1910 aged 55 from sarcoma.

John and Richard Coutts are a more recent example of how the medical vocation runs in families. John Coutts was a surgeon at Palmerston North Hospital from 1964 to 1989. His son Richard hs been a general surgeon at the hospital since 1994.

Thomas Lee Porter was born in Devon and trained at Guy’s Hospital. He was a Cambridge graduate and was registered in the UK in 1877. He came to New Zealand in 1880 and practised in Nelson and Palmerston North.  He suffered from locomotor ataxia and died in Palmerston North from bronchial asthma on 22 January 1904 aged 52.
In 1895 Dr George Wilson was appointed as Honorary Surgeon at the hospital and performed the first appendicectomy there in 1898.  He had qualified at Edinburgh in 1887 and practised in Glasgow. In November 1892 he arrived in New Zealand and began practising in Wellington and then Palmerston North. He died in Palmerston North on 31 December 1912, just two days after, ironically, an appendix operation.
Dr I Reed was appointed in 1900, but left after just a year and was replaced by Dr Matthew Campbell.  A Scotsman, Campbell had qualified in New Zealand in 1894 and worked in Patea and New Plymouth. He left Palmerston North Hospital in 1904. Campbell died in New
Plymouth on 18 September 1931.
Campbell was replaced by Dr Arthur Anderson Martin. 
Martin, who was born in Otago in 1876, qualified in Edinburgh in 1900. He served in the South African War as a civil surgeon for the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and wrote his MD thesis on surgical cases in Natal and Transvaal.
Martin returned to New Zealand in 1903 and joined Palmerston North Hospital as a Senior Surgeon.  Later he served during WWI in France in mid-1915 and 1916 with the RAMC.
He returned to New Zealand briefly in 1916 but went back to the war with the New Zealand Medical Corps.
He died of wounds in France on 17 September 1916 aged 40. He was awarded the DSO (posthumous) in 1917.
In the NZ Medical Journal, it was said: “There must necessarily be few of his
outstanding and commanding surgical genius in such a small country as our own.”
By 1912 there were three doctors attached to the hospital:  Dr Martin, Dr Philip Putnam, and Dr Charles Peach. Medical officers treated both surgical and medical cases until 1919, when the work was split into medical, surgical and specialist.
Philip Timothy Putnam was born in Bendigo and trained in Melbourne. He registered in New Zealand in 1903.  Like Martin, he also saw service during World War I.  He died suddenly in the street from coronary thrombosis on 19 Feb 1941 aged 64.
Charles William Peach was born in Edinburgh and trained there, qualifying in 1895. He registered in New Zealand in 1900 and worked in Christchurch before coming to Palmerston North. He died in Palmerston North on 5 April 1949 aged 76.
By this time the Board thought to appoint a Resident Medical Officer, Gavin Forrest. Gavin Addie Forrest was born in Scotland, and qualified at Edinburgh in 1901. He registered in New Zealand in 1910 taking up posts in Wellington, and Oxford in Canterbury. Forrest also served during World War I.
He died in Palmerston North on 4 October 1929 aged 50 from erysipelas and septicaemia, contracted from an injury while he was operating. Two of his sons went on to become doctors.
The number of surgeons continued to increase as the population and its hospital grew, and it was said as early as 1928, that Palmerston North had become a city of surgeons.
MidCentral DHB Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth Clark says now more than 50 per cent of all doctors graduating from New Zealand medical schools are females and over time this is resulting in more and more of our medical staff at Palmerston North hospital being women.
“Half, or more, of our resident or junior doctors are women and about a quarter of our senior doctors.
“We also have a hugely diverse medical staff working across all of our specialty areas with doctors from New Zealand, Australia, the Pacific Islands, South Africa, the United States, the UK and many other European nations.
“These doctors bring new skills and approaches and many settle in our district long term.
“It is most certainly a very different environment to that of a century ago. 
“Our staff offer a tremendous range of services to meet all the complex demands of our modern world, but just as our pioneers did they conduct themselves with great passion, dedication and care.”
- Written by Paula McCool

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