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Biographical entry Kitchin, Reginald Jack (1931 - 2012)

MRCS and FRCS 1960; MB ChB Witwatersrand 1952; FAOrthoA 1967: FRCAS 1982.

18 February 1931
Durban, South Africa
14 September 2012
Orthopaedic surgeon


Reginald Kitchin was a well-liked and industrious orthopaedic surgeon who worked in Canberra, Australia. He was a pioneer in the area, as he was only the second specialist orthopaedic surgeon to practise there from 1963: the first was Dick Vance. As the population grew, they were joined by Keith McGonigal and later many others. The cordial relationship and cooperation established between orthopaedic surgeons, started by Reg and Dick, was continued. There were no petty jealousies, and Reg went out of his way to welcome and help new colleagues. Over the years he helped to build up the specialty to include a training programme, of which he was justly proud: he set up the first 24 hour on-call roster, the first fracture clinics at the hospital and the first elective operating lists in the 1970s. Surgical activity centred round the Royal Canberra Hospital and the new John James Memorial Hospital. He was the first surgeon to perform joint replacements in Canberra, thus alleviating the pain and disability caused by arthritis in so many grateful patients.

South African by birth, he spent the years 1957 to 1960 in the UK, as did many from his country, Australia and New Zealand. This helped to give them a great deal of practical experience, but importantly benefitted the NHS, particularly in provincial hospitals. These overseas graduates were prepared to work hard for very little recompense and, during these years in England, Reg studied for and passed the primary and final FRCS examinations.

He was born in Durban, South Africa, on 18 February 1931, the son of Reginald McBeth Clarke Kitchin, who left school at the age of 14 to become a shipping agent. His father later bought a retail business in household goods and worked in this until he retired. His mother Gladys Bronwen (née Rees) was a secretary. She was born in South Africa, but her own father, Jack, left Swansea some four years prior to her birth.

Reg received his early education at Durban North Primary School and his secondary school education at Kearsney College, Natal, a private boarding school for boys in Botha's Hill, a small town between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. He excelled academically and was a keen sportsman.

Reg entered the medical school at the University of Witwatersrand, where his good academic record continued: he graduated in 1952, having gained a prize in forensic medicine in 1951.Throughout his undergraduate years he represented the university at cricket and rugby union. He retained this sporting interest throughout his life, and after he was naturalised supported Australia in international cricket and rugby matches.

It was while he was an undergraduate, much to the surprise of his contemporaries, who found him a serious student, that he met his future wife, Alison Joan Buchanan. She was also training in medicine at Witwatersrand University. They met at a party in Durban when he was at the end of his third year of training and Joan was completing her first year. They married on 15 January 1955. Joan practised as a general practitioner after their first child was born, and did so until she retired.

Reg held house appointments between 1954 and 1955, first as a house surgeon at the Johannesburg General Hospital and then as a house physician at the Baragwanath Hospital, a teaching hospital of Witwatersrand University Medical School. He completed his second house physician post in paediatrics at Coronation Hospital, before returning to the Baragwanath Hospital as a senior house surgeon. In 1956, to complete this period of training, he was a casualty officer at the Johannesburg General Hospital and worked at 'mine' hospitals.

He decided to go to the UK in 1957 for further training and to study for the FRCS. These were difficult days, and he was grateful for support received from Sir Gordon Gordon-Taylor. He enrolled on the RCS course in basic sciences, and passed the primary FRCS in February 1958. Perhaps undecided at this stage whether to specialise, he obtained a locum post as a senior house officer in orthopaedics at St James' Hospital, Balham. In 1958 he ventured further north, to become a senior house officer in general surgery at the Victoria Hospital, Blackpool. He was then successful in an application for a registrar post in general surgery throughout 1959 at the Royal Northern Hospital. It was during a registrar appointment (from 1960 to 1961) in orthopaedics at the New End Hospital, Hampstead, that Reg passed the final FRCS examination.

He then did a locum post at Chase Farm Hospital, Enfield. This short period provided his only publication (although he later wrote a personal record of the development of orthopaedic surgery in Canberra, which has yet to be published). The British Journal of Surgery article concerned an unusual case of 'Torsion of an accessory spleen presenting as acute appendicitis" (Br J Surg. 1962 Sep;50: 232-3). Reg was a little bemused when, through a grid iron incision, he found a 'tumour' in the greater omentum. Somewhat challenged by this conundrum, he called for the help of the senior registrar (the writer of this tribute). Together they found an extraordinary state of affairs, which reminded them of their studies in embryology as medical students. A normal spleen was found in its proper site, but the tail of the pancreas had entered the omentum. A mass the size of a tangerine was found to be twisted in the lower edge of the greater omentum. The appendix was normal, but was removed, as was the accessory spleen.

Returning to South Africa in March 1961, Reg worked at King Edward VIII Hospital in Durban which, at that time, catered only for black patients. He gained experience in craniotomies, a skill which was also useful in his next posting as a locum for a couple of doctors who were on a well-deserved vacation from the mission field. So, in 1962, he became medical superintendent and general surgeon at the Charles Johnson Memorial Hospital, a mission hospital for the native population. Reg later claimed that he was the only orthopaedic surgeon to have done 30 caesarean sections under local anaesthesia!

Reg and Joan then decided to emigrate, having confirmed their distaste for the apartheid regime. They did not wish their children to grow up in a country of racial discrimination. They set sail for Australia in 1962 with four children, one two weeks old, and were guided by Australian friends whom they had met in England. Much of his training in the UK had been in orthopaedics, so his next post as a registrar at the Royal Newcastle Hospital, New South Wales, continued this trend. He worked with and was greatly influenced by Gordon Kerridge, a specialist orthopaedic surgeon. He increased his experience in the generality of orthopaedics, and was ready for a consultant orthopaedic post. He moved in 1963 to practise in Canberra and obtained attachments at the Royal Canberra Hospital (from 1963 to 1991), the Woden Valley Hospital (from 1974 to 1994) and Calvary Hospital (up to 1989).

Performing all orthopaedic procedures, initially without the help of registrars, Reg and Dick Vance attended almost every trauma event and acute situation in the hospital. With the establishment of the orthopaedic training programme in the late 1980s this changed: nights and days were not as hectic as in the earlier years.

Reg seemed to fill the room with his imposing frame, but possessed a quiet presence and treated everyone, patients and staff, in a gentlemanly manner, mixed with humour. He did not waste words, particularly when at the weekly meetings, where complications and difficulties were discussed openly. Reg was succinct in his comments and came straight to the point, at times perhaps appearing a little gruff. He taught a generation of orthopaedic surgeons, who were pleased to call him their mentor and friend.

It was not all work, however. After teaching sessions the 'team', including junior doctors, nurses and physiotherapists gathered at the Kitchins' house on Fridays to play tennis and have a beer. This bonded the group. Their household became well-known for the end of year barbecue in their garden, usually with a roast pig and a keg of beer to quench thirsts. All those connected with orthopaedic service were invited - doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, operating room staff and members of management joined together in this 'fellowship'. Reg was an egalitarian and generous man.

His interests outside medicine were catholic. He continued his love of sport, but veered towards tennis and golf for recreation. He had a great interest in the arts and loved classical music. At a more domestic level, he enjoyed cooking, mainly Chinese and French cuisine. He enjoyed annual trips to the Sydney cricket tests and Wallabies rugby games and, when the Olympic Games went to Sydney in 2000, Reg bought a full season pass to the athletics and attended every day.

One of the most important places for relaxation was his farm of 585 acres between Bredbo and Michelago. For nearly 30 years he spent many Sundays there when he was not 'on-call'. With his family helping, he built sheds, fences, ploughed fields and sewed oats and maintained a herd of about 70 Hereford cows.

In retirement he took a degree in arts and philosophy, which led him into a new way of thinking. He became fascinated by current and ancient debates in religion and philosophy. Computers became a new world to him as he wrote assignments towards his degree.

Reginald Kitchin died on 14 September 2012 aged 81, but he had not been in the best of health for some time. In 1998 he had an operation for an aortic aneurysm and that seemed to age him considerably.

Reg was survived by his wife Joan, five children (Jennifer Margaret, Susan Mary, Brigid Catherine, Paul Kelsey and Margaret Bronwen) and 13 grandchildren. A daughter, Alison Jane, predeceased him. Reg Kitchin's name is commemorated in a Reginald Kitchin Scholarship at the Australian National University, established in 2004 by the board of management of the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) Musculoskeletal and Orthopaedic Research Foundation to support honours level research in orthopaedic and trauma surgery.

N Alan Green

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from: Reginald Kitchin - 'Reg's life'; Joan Buchanan; David McNichol's eulogy; William Coyle; Professor Warwick Bruce].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England