Live life to the Max

Yesterday I bumped into Emeritus Professor Max Kamien at #GP16Perth, the annual conference for Australia’s GPs. It is always a pleasure to meet Max, who is a phenomenon in West Australia and beyond. Many general practitioners, including me, have at some time during their career been taught, tutored or assessed by him.

Max is also a traveller, writer and story-teller. We spoke about his passion for writing, advice to new fellows and his latest book Barcoo Rot, Sperm That Untie a Knot and Other Medical Tales from The Back o’Bourke and Beyond – a collection of hilarious and amazing stories about general practice, which was published late last year.

Blowflies and witchery grubs

Barcoo-rotHis long career as a medical writer started when he was a medical student: “I put a blowfly in a nitric acid bottle in the chemistry laboratory and was given two months of lunchtime detention washing chemistry retorts. My supervisors were Vincent Serventy, who wrote books about fauna and flora and Douglas Stuart, a larrikin writer of West Australiana. They introduced me to the joys of witchetty grubs and writing.”

“I was also the editor of ‘The Reflex’, the WA medical students magazine. The Medical School registrar burned it. It is now a valuable collectors item. One article pointed out that most of the Nazi medical experimenters were academics. It is still quoted in the world literature, which is not bad for a student publication.”

Book reviews

His book has received positive reviews. Charles Guest wrote in the MJA: ‘There is (self-deprecating) humour frequently but always compassion and instruction.” Robert Reid said in Medicus: “Professor Kamien has written an enjoyable, funny, insightful and yes, valuable book (…) with hardly an issue of life or medicine that is not examined or on which Prof Kamien doesn’t have a view.”

Max recommends two stories in particular: “Bill Reid; From inequity to virtue, which is about getting to know your feared adversaries, and the other is: Let me die like a dog. This is about my miserable failure as the long-time GP of a Catholic lady who got Motor Neurone Disease and, totally paralysed, lingered on for 10 years.”

“My book makes great Christmas presents for doctors, nurses and medical students. I have had only two negative comments. A colleague said he felt short-changed since he had read some of the stories before in Australian Doctor magazine. And some people who like to bend a two page book into a one page one have managed to split the spine.”

Lastly Max’s advice to new fellows is short but sweet: “Follow the last three paragraphs of the RACGP Oath of Fellowship.”

For the record, you might want to consider the whole oath.

Max is happy to provide his book to doctors attending #GP16Perth this week; he can sometimes be found in the exhibition hall. Make sure you get a copy if you haven’t already.

RACGP Oath of Fellowship
RACGP Oath of Fellowship

5 thoughts on “Live life to the Max

  • As a patient (noun) with a few problems (some serious) I would like to know your opinion about doctors who come into your life, give you good care, and just as quickly disappear to another surgery?
    In the last 5 years I have had 4 doctors; all within the same medical centre. What happened to the family doctor from my youth who looked after me from birth ’till I left home? I believe continuity of medical care is an essential step to good health, & forced “doctor shopping” is is detrimental to long term patient outcome.


    • Thanks for your comment. I agree and there is good evidence that continuity of care improves health outcomes. Sometimes though, doctors – just like others – do move due to various reasons.


    • I agree that continuity of care can have huge advantages. Full time GPs who work at the one practice for 30 odd years still exist, but are definitely fewer in number. We need to remember that doctors are not immune to wider social changes. There has a been a huge cultural shift over recent decades re: workforce mobility. Job hopping is the new norm, especially for younger workers. Across nearly all industries, most millennials (born between 1977-1997) expect to stay in a particular job for only a few years. The medical profession can’t stop these changes but we can (and should) look at how to minimise the impact of doctor mobility on our patients (like using healthcare teams more effectively).

      Liked by 1 person

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