Last weekend I attended the AMA National Conference in Canberra to see The President’s Medal awarded posthumously to Dr Bernard Quin. Dr Quin was an Australian doctor working in Nauru in the 1930’s, and then into the early years of the Second World War whilst Australian soldiers were stationed there. He cared for Australian workers and soldiers, and the broader local community, including a “leper colony”. After the withdrawal of Australian troops he stayed behind to continue to care for his patients while his young family were moved to safety in Melbourne. Japanese forces occupied the island and a little over 6 months later Dr Quin was murdered, along with 4 other Australians, in retaliation for an Allied raid.
I was excited to see the presentation, partly because my wife Dr Angela Ryan had been working very hard for a long time to get some form of recognition for Dr Quin. We had come to know his story through his son, Fr Peter Quin, who christened our son, and we had both been deeply affected by it. But I was also excited to witness this presentation because Dr Quin fully embodied an ideal, that of placing the welfare of our patients first. As doctors we hope to be capable of this, and recognizing a sacrifice such as his can renew our faith that this ideal, while extraordinary, is not lost to us.