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A doctor’s courageous dedication to his patients finally recognised

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A Melbourne-based doctor whose extraordinary dedication to his patients ended up costing him his life has been posthumously awarded the AMA President’s Award at the AMA National Conference.

In a moving ceremony, outgoing AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton presented the family of Dr Bernard Quin with the Award in recognition of his dedication and sacrifice.

Dr Quin, a Victorian GP and member of the British Medical Association (Victoria Division – now AMA Victoria) was executed by Japanese troops occupying Nauru during the Second World War.

Before the war, Dr Quin, accompanied by his wife and five children, worked for eight years on Nauru as the Australian Government Medical Officer, providing health care for the local inhabitants – many of whom had leprosy – as well as the island’s expat community.

When Nauru was attacked by German raiders, Dr Quin took his family to Melbourne before returning to the island at the request of the Australian Government (who made him an honorary captain) to provide medical care for Australian troops and the local population.

At the end of 1941, the Japanese began bombing Nauru, and the Australian troops withdrew. But Dr Quin and four other Australians, including the island’s Administrator Lt Colonel Frederick Chalmers and pharmacist W. Shugg, courageously elected to stay, a decision that end up costing them their lives.

The Japanese invaded and occupied the island in mid-1942, and took Dr Quin and the other Australians prisoner.

They endured months of privation, including virtual starvation, such that by the beginning of 1943 Dr Quin was unable to walk.

The end came in March that year, when a US squadron bombed the island and Dr Quin and his compatriots were executed by the Japanese troops in retaliation.

Dr Hambleton said the story was harrowing and confronting, but Dr Quin’s conduct was inspiring.

“Dr Quin would have known the risks to his own safety by staying on Nauru after the Australian troops had left,” the AMA President said. “His professionalism and dedication to the Nauruan people led him to make a truly courageous decision to stay, to not abandon them, and for that decision he paid with his life.”

Dr Hambleton said Dr Quin was far from the only casualty in the story. His wife Mary and five children knew that his personal safety was at risk, but did not find out for two years that he had died. He never had a funeral.

To add to their anguish, their loss has never been officially recognised, the AMA President said: “The Australian War Memorial cannot formally recognise Dr Quin as he was not a serving member of the Australian Armed Forces, nor was he assisting Australian military forces when he was killed”.

Dr Hambleton paid tribute to the tireless efforts of Dr Quin’s family to have his sacrifice acknowledged, and said the AMA was proud to recognise his devotion to his patients.

“It is fitting for the AMA to offer him proper recognition and to uphold Dr Quin as an exemplar of the provisions of the Declaration of Geneva, by which a doctor pledges to consecrate his or her life to the service of humanity.

“We are proud and honoured to recognise his exceptional service as a medical practitioner – his selfless commitment and devotion to the people of Nauru embodies what it truly means to be a doctor.”

Dr Hambleton said that, in honouring Dr Quin, the AMA also paid tribute to “those members of our profession who have put their patients’ needs above their own in order to provide ongoing care for others, and who have never been formally acknowledged”.

The award was accepted by Dr Quin’s son Peter, who attended the ceremony with more than 50 family members.

Adrian Rollins