From 2015: 50 Years with MB BS.


Bill Pigott’s Five Decades with his MB BS:

Medicine has given me a marvellous 50 years. Back in January 1965, who’d have thought it would lead me to remote and troubled corners of the world, meeting Kings  and Prime Ministers, persuading Ministers of Health to do the right thing, travelling in old Russian helicopters to visit heath emergencies, and taking in, on the way, extraordinary opportunities to meet incredible people, see amazing places and do interesting things, adding value and enabling change, in individuals, institutions, communities  and countries; and in the process undergoing change myself.

Five decades of amazing experiences:

1965-1974: Residency and Physicians training at Sydney Hospital (terms as Resident in Bathurst, and as Medical Registrar in Goroka, PNG) locums for RFDS; rugby, Hospital reviews: a shift to Medical Education, as I became involved in teaching as Professorial Registrar, concerned about resident training and involvement in Hospital Management studies where performance indicators showed me clear connection between those who could communicate and work with others and good outcomes; 2 years overseas looking at innovations in Medical education, looking at how students were helped learn how to communicate, take responsibility and work with others, (visiting Medical Schools in India, Afghanistan, Iran, through Europe and in Canada, with 4 months at the  USC Department of Medical Education and 9 months as Fellow in Medical Education at McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario);  Marriage to a Canadian nurse, Leslie, at the end of 1972, and return to Australia to work at the WHO Regional Teacher Training Centre at UNSW, with 1974 and 1975 at the RPAH Community Care Teaching Unit in Glebe. 

1975-1984: 5 years as Director of the Foundation for Multidisciplinary Education in Community Health, based in the Department of Community Medicine at the University Adelaide, an innovative programme for students from different health professions to learn about teamwork in community health; consultancies with WHO lead to recruitment for a WHO Medical Education assignment in Nepal, leaving Adelaide for Kathmandu at the beginning of 1981 with our three small boys, aged 5, 3 ½ and 2.  This evolved into a 21 year career with the WHO. In 1987 awarded the ANZAME “Fred Katz Medal” for Service to Medical Education in the Developing World.

1985-1994:  From Nepal to WHO HQ in Geneva for 8½ years as head of the Staff Development Programme, working on “Leadership Development for Health for All”, training programmes for WHO Country Representatives and developing Inter-UN-agency training activities and workshops.

1995-2004:  Reassigned in mid 1995 as WHO Representative to Nepal, to lead  a team of 40, challenged by frequent changes in government, the early stages of the Maoist Insurgency, Polio Plus, UNAIDS and a National Aids programme; Reassigned as WHO Representative to Cambodia in mid 1999 until my “Separation from WHO Service” at the end of 2001:  Returned to Australia to start “retirement” in early 2002, settling in Berry, finding that retirement does not exist as I became as busy as ever, with participation in the local community, and Landcare: locally, at district level, regionally and on the State Council of Landcare NSW.

2005-2015: This decade seems to have gone faster than any of the others and is as busy as ever: singing in a choir, involvement on several committees; maintaining Landcare activities, but adding a state level involvement: membership of the Board of Directors of World Education Australia, a development NGO with micro-finance and literacy activities in Cambodia, Nepal and South East Asia; becoming a grandparent and supporting our three sons as they established themselves, one as an outdoor educator who is now a paramedic in Canada, one in the world of independent theatre in Sydney, teaching, creating, directing and acting, and the youngest locally in Natural Resource Management.

Overall:  I loved clinical medicine. As I moved away from clinical practice into education, and later Health Development, I found that the skills one uses are the same: understand a patient, an individual, a staff member, a student, an institution, or a community, work with them to make a diagnosis, formulate a management plan and help them to put it into practice; follow up and provide feedback, reinforcing appropriate behaviour.  As I changed from clinical medicine to education, my quest was to focus on learning rather than on teaching, so that there might be a shift from teaching to learning in schools for health professionals. I developed a real passion for “Problem Based Learning” and the way its use encourages life-long learning. For me, learning implies respecting what is already known and building on that; using capacity and potential to build capacity, promoting strengths rather than eradicating faults.

During these 50 years I have definitely grown up, appreciating the value of tolerance, the gift of being able to listen and hear what others are saying, the meaning of “mindfulness” and the value of letting life unfold, responding to opportunities, living in the present. Equanimity. I have also come to understand the difference between religiousness and spirituality. What I have learned is much more important to me than what I did. I think of what I achieved in terms of what the people I helped have achieved, the changes for the better in people, institutions, and countries, recognizing any of my contributions were always made as a member of the team, as a member of a group

I have been supported by a family, love of music and a habit of reading: For 43 of those years I have had the love and support of a great partner, who herself has continued to work as a nurse, a volunteer and a mother, providing wonderful support not only for me but for our three boys, especially the two who dealt with dyslexia as youngsters. There have always been new situations to face and whatever the challenges were, we discovered we could find a way, continually learning from within each one, being grateful, practicing respect and reciprocity.  And there were tears on the way, tears of joy and of sorrow.  Celebrations too.

Looking back:  My Philosophy? Live each day. Believe in others, everyone has something to offer, and when you work with that you are often surprised; one is just a small part of an infinitely bigger picture, and working with others, in a heath team, a choir, or a family, has consequences that are geometrically better than going it alone. Respect others, listen patiently and engage with them gently (lessons learned living and working in environments where my mother tongue was not theirs, living in environments where respect is practiced): ‘Love” as a verb, something one does. Being patient, learning how to pause and be still.   Things exist even though not yet explained or “discovered”; suspend judgment until you have all the evidence, and even then wait a bit. Don’t wait for others to give you permission, seek it and go ahead. Ideas are not owned, and if someone else espoused an idea I had generated, then I knew it was a good one and had taken root.

And what of tomorrow?   Now, five decades on it seems to be all about being where you are, focusing on the “now” and your place in it. We are comfortable as an ageing couple who still enjoy each other’s company, can still manage life on a 5 acre rural block, volunteer actively and travel from time to time. Time seems to go more quickly now and I find myself busier than I wish to be.  I would like more time to write, to collect pieces written over the years and with extracts from journals I have kept from time to time, create some form of memoir for my children and grandchildren. I realise that all that I have is the present moment, memories of shared experiences and the friendships and companionship’s that have sustained me over the last 73 years.

I hope and trust they will continue for a little longer, I have enormous gratitude for the many who have contributed to all of this, either directly or indirectly and added such value to my journey.

(Prepared for the 50th Anniversary Reunion, January 2015. Bill Pigott

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