Medical service

Chiron speaks with Dr Abe Dorevitch about his time at the Mildura Branch, his specialist field of pathology and his contribution to medicine, revealing an approach to life underscored by a commitment to education, innovation and care for others.

Dr Abe Dorevitch and Mrs Vera Dorevitch

PATHOLOGY PIONEER LEAVING A LEGACY OF SOCIAL JUSTICE

Dr Dorevitch (MBBS 1952, MD 1958) was a student in the University of Melbourne’s bold experiment to open a branch at Mildura in the aftermath of World War II, commencing his studies there in 1947 as part of the Mildura Branch’s inaugural year. He graduated in Medicine from the University in 1952.

“I was interested in general medicine, passed the exam in the College of Physicians and embarked on a career of consultant medicine,” he reflects. “But then my interest in pathology was growing and eventually that was pre-eminent.”

After completing specialist pathology studies, it was a natural progression for Dr Dorevitch to establish his own private pathology practice in 1970.

Dorevitch Pathology had its beginning on a site in Burke Road, Camberwell, with the development of laboratories and a courier fleet, which comprised two Volkswagen Beetles, marking the beginning of a practice that would become well known across Victoria.

After developing a successful practice over many years, leaving an enduring impression on the medical community, Dr Dorevtich sold Dorevitch Pathology in 1996 after 26 years.

By then, Dorevitch Pathology had grown to around 20 laboratories, employing a large number of staff.

COMMITMENT TO TEACHING

Teaching and encouraging the education and development of fellow pathologists, dermatologists and scientists has been a key element in Dr Dorevitch’s busy life, and something he has taken on in an understated fashion.

“I had time to do a lot of teaching of pathology to trainee dermatologists who had to pass a fairly searching exam in tissue pathology, and we had weekly sessions with them, and that was particularly enjoyable,” he recalls.

“We had good relations with the staff, so that was one of the things I missed when I retired, the interaction, and underlying all that was the desire to be involved in providing an efficient and high-class service.”

After selling the practice, Dr Dorevitch continued for many years in a consultant role providing help to former colleagues, as well as doing what he loved – dermatopathology and teaching.

SHARING OF KNOWLEDGE

Dr Dorevitch and his wife Vera (BA 1975, GDip (Social Studies) 1975) have seen their children follow their parents’ lead at the University of Melbourne, continuing the family’s involvement in the helping profession, with son Michael (MBBS 1979, MD 1999) a geriatrician, Steven (MBBS 1981) a general practitioner, and Katy (BA 1983) a clinical psychologist.

The couple’s grandchildren have studied in the areas of law, medicine and dentistry, with a total of 13 family members having attended the University of Melbourne.

PATHOLOGY ADVANCEMENTS

More than 70 years after enrolling in medicine, Dr Dorevitch reflects on advances in pathology.

“Pathology has evolved from the days of test tubes and beakers to standard solutions and computations to obtain results and concentration levels,” he says.

“But the essence of the field, in many respects, remains the same in its fundamentals; that is, the challenge to interpret the results in relationship with the clinical problems and to interpret the information with reports when applicable. That remains the same, in that it is challenging.”

Now enjoying retirement and the opportunity to reconnect with fellow alumni, Dr Dorevitch views fondly his involvement with the University of Melbourne.

“Graduating in ‘52, we had our last reunion a few months ago, with only a few left. I have good memories.”

STUDENT LIFE AT THE BRANCH

Dust Volume 1

Sent away to study in a former Air Force base was the prospect for first-year University of Melbourne medical students in the late 1940s.

Far from being despondent, Abe Dorevitch relished the prospect of heading to the country, taking the move in his stride.

“We were told that we had to go to Mildura and that was it,” he recalls.

Although, physically, that was easier said than done.

“The original trip to Mildura from Spencer Street Railway Station took about 12 hours, starting in the early evening and finishing up early the next day. It was a bit of a nightmare trip.”

According to Dr Dorevitch, a special feature of life at the Mildura campus was the visiting guest lecturers who were flown up every Friday night, which helped keep cultural life on a high.

“There were people like Professor Joe Burke (MA 1948, LLD 1987) who was professor of Fine Arts at the University of Melbourne, and Professor Pansy Wright (MBBS 1929, MS 1932, DSc 1941, LLD 1980) who spoke on the famous names in medicine,” he says.

“Professor Margaret Blackwood (BSc 1938, MSc 1939, LLD 1983) was the lead professor of botany and ran a series of weekly music presentations and played records. Topics were well chosen and it was an enjoyable activity.”

As for being in Mildura, and the associated challenges of a remote campus, Dr Dorevitch says: “We were separated from the town, although there was significant interaction, notably through the sports clubs.

“The Mildura people kindly invited the University to field the football team in the [local] competition. Then, with temerity, the University team took out the Premiership in the first year!

“Many of the ex-servicemen had a major involvement, because they were very talented. They had a good influence as they were extroverted and confident and a bit of a role model for those of us that had come straight from school.”

Ex-serviceman Dr Edward Fleming (MBBS 1952) was one of the many students who entered Mildura after serving in the war as a bomber pilot in Europe.

He says the remote location of Mildura was not an issue for him when he returned to Australia, having already spent three years away from home with the Royal Air Force’s Lancaster Bomber squadron, based in the UK.

“Life at Mildura worked remarkably well, with former hangars converted to lecture theatres, RAAF huts used as sleeping quarters, and a good mixture of students,” Dr Fleming recalls.

“There was adequate provision for socialising and sporting activity. Everyone got on very well together. I have pleasant memories of Mildura.”

On graduating and practising as a GP for a number of years, Dr Fleming acquired surgical qualifications in England, worked as a surgeon at the United Christian Hospital at Lahore, Pakistan, visited Kabul in Afghanistan and spent the next 25 years as a general surgeon in Canberra. Rejoining the RAAF Reserve in 1968 as a senior surgical specialist, he worked as a locum at 4 RAAF Hospital at Butterworth and participated in Medevac flights from Vung Tau, Vietnam.

According to a fellow first-year medical student at Mildura, Dr John Riddell (MBBS 1953), the large number of returned servicemen and women accounted for the high number of medical students (268) enrolled in 1947.

“We were told, due to so many students in first year, there would not be room for all of those who passed to attend second year, and that an average score of 65 per cent or more for physics, chemistry and biology would be required to progress,“ recounts Dr Riddell.

Despite the rigorous academic program, he also recalled fond memories of that first year.

“We of the first year were accommodated at the RAAF base, sharing two-man huts and dining in the large aircraft hangars,”  he says. “We enjoyed the ideal climate and informal lifestyle.  We had three excellent lecturers who also became our friends.

“Sport played a large part in our lives and we competed against local teams in cricket, football, hockey, tennis and athletics. I am grateful to have experienced this year [at Mildura].”

Returning to Melbourne to progress to second-year studies meant a period of readjustment for most students. But it did not necessarily mean abandoning friendships made in Mildura.

“Well, you got to know people closely,” says Dr Dorevitch. “And the friends made in Mildura lasted the course, becoming lifelong friends.”