Gastroenterologist recognised in honours list

By Geir O'Rourke

25 Jan 2024

Gastroenterologist Dr Ramananda Kamath has been recognised for his contributions to the specialty in the Australia Day Honours.

Dr Kamath was among nearly two dozen specialists included in the 2024 honours list, having been granted an Order of Australia Medal (OAM).

The retired doctor received the accolade “for service to paediatric gastroenterology”, according to the award citation.

He said paediatric gastroenterology was in its infancy when he began his career, taking on the first full-time paediatric gastroenterology role at the former Children’s Hospital in Camperdown in the late 1970s.

“At the time, there was no recognised paediatric gastroenterology training program anywhere in the world, and I was the first to do it full-time in this country,” he told the limbic.

Dr Ramananda Kamath

He recalls major clinical challenges in that period of rapidly evolving understanding, while inter-specialty politics also kept life interesting.

“When I came here, I was titled as a gastroenterologist, but anything other than biopsy of the small intestine was to be referred to somebody else,” he said.

“For example, when I first did flexible endoscopy of the oesophagus, the ENT surgeon came into my room and tried to tell me to stop. What I did was ask my registrars not to put oesophagoscopy on my list, write upper GI endoscopy instead.”

“So there was obstruction everywhere, but I successfully fought it and established the department.”

Beyond that was the lack of equipment, such as appropriately sized endoscopes – which did not exist when he started out, according to Dr Kamath.

“Eventually, I heard that a man in Brussels had been given a paediatric endoscope by Olympus. It was a device that had originally been used for inspecting jet engines,” he recalled.

“I remember asking if I could come and work with him to learn how to use it and he said: ‘Join me, we can learn together’.”

“So I did, and to both of our surprise, we quickly became proficient in using it on paediatric patients rather than aeroplanes.”

But his proudest achievement came in 1985, when he successfully applied to the federal government to establish a paediatric liver transplantation unit.

“I am grateful to this country for having accepted me and for the opportunity to work in what I consider to be the best children’s hospital in the world,” added Dr Kamath, who trained in India and worked in Malaysia before emigrating to Australia in the 1970s.

“I am honoured both for the opportunity to work here and to have that work recognised. It has been an absolutely privilege.”

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