General Practitioners   of Australia

connecting GPs across this vast land
Practicing Medicine in the 1950s

      A typical doctor in the 1950s would have been born between 1890 and 1925. This means that he will have lived through one world war, and perhaps two, as well as the great depression. Young doctors of this era may have had an accelerated undergraduate course (they removed the holidays!) because of the war and may have been required to have some military field service training. Sydney University trained about 250 students but the drop out rate was high. About 120 students per year graduated. Entry requirements were basically matriculation level, ie if you passed matriculation and had studied certain subjects (eg Latin) then you qualified for entry.

During the war and post-war era there was a lack of clinical teachers. Some of the graduates would continue on to work in hospitals for further experience and remuneration, but there was no requirement and some doctors entered into general practice as assistants upon graduation. Some would work as locums. Almost all doctors entered general practice. Some later chose to specialise but speciality training was difficult to obtain within Australia and because the population was small, experience was hard to obtain. Consequently, most doctors training to become specialists traveled overseas for training. However, since they were typically poor when they graduate, a good number of years in general practice enabled them to afford the overseas training and gave them valuable experience. Consequently most specialists had a good understanding of general practice.

Funding in many parts was via the lodge system, ie capitation. Patients would pay an amount eg 11s per quarter, to be treated by a doctor (or practice) when needed. Some would call upon the doctor at any time for matters that were at times trivial. Practices tended to be very busy.

Most general practitioners were skilled in surgery and anaesthetics and obstetrics. Many had large obstetric practices and would be called upon to help deliver normal births as well as forceps and Caesarians. With the exception of capital cities there were few specialist obstetricians and this was the post-war "baby boom". Anaesthetics in this era were given by GPs.

Most practices were very busy with their daytime consultations, ward rounds and numerous home visits including all through the night. The doctors worked very hard. Most did not have any holidays for many years.