Former College Chairman reflects on 45 years with the College

12 April 2019

A well-worn box was delivered to the Wellington offices recently, much to the intrigue of College staff.  Enclosed in the box was a treasure trove of faxes, receipts, letters and telegrams from the early days of the College, sent in by Distinguished Fellow Dr John Musgrove.

Now 88, John still visits the same Christchurch medical centre that he helped establish in 1970, and he says they care for him well.

We caught up with John to discuss his career as a GP and work with the College. His considerable contributions included overseeing as Chairman the formation of the New Zealand College when it gained independence from its London counterpart in 1974.

This story was published in two parts. This part is all about the early work of the College – to find out more about John and his career, click here.

You sent copies of invitations to the College’s Founding Dinner and the first GP conference. Can you tell us more about those events?

The New Zealand College was founded in 1974, and before that we were considered Faculties of the Royal College of General Practitioners in London. To celebrate, we held a Foundation Dinner on 24 January 1974 to celebrate – the same day as Christchurch’s Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony.

The dinner was attended by the Duke of Edinburgh and Professor Pat Byrne, Patron and President of the (London) Royal College of General Practitioners respectively (pictured top left). It was a wonderful evening. The Duke was scheduled to attend the races at 8.30pm, but when I reminded him of this he said “John, I am going nowhere.” Eventually he left the dinner at 11.00pm.

Our inaugural conference was held two weeks later at the University of Canterbury. Christchurch GPs and their wives planned and organised the event, which had more than 400 attendees. I believe it was very successful in paving the way for many conferences since.

How was the training programme established?

One of our first actions was to form an Education Committee and a Research Committee. 

The Education Committee organised a registrar training programme with branches in the four main centres. The first registrars were appointed, I think, in 1976. The registrars worked in practices and attended a weekly seminar. We developed an examination for entry to the College, relying a lot on the Department of General Practice in Auckland.

Under the College’s auspices, the Christchurch Faculty arranged for Education Professor Graham Nuthall from Canterbury University to run a series of lectures on “teaching the teachers”. That helped us all considerably, and other faculties developed similar initiatives.

Pictures of attendees at the College's 1974 Founding Dinner

What College achievements are you particularly proud of?

At that time there were very few female doctors in general practice, as it was very difficult if they had families as well. I think there were two female GPs in Christchurch. The training programme gradually attracted more female graduates as it allowed them to do sessional work in medical centres, without having to commit to long hours.

We initiated Continuing Medical Education programmes which helped keep members up-to-date with new medical practices, and supported many research efforts. We established our own journal, the New Zealand Family Physician which became the  Journal of Primary Health Care, which has become a well-recognised source of quality primary care information.

The early years involved a tremendous amount of work, but the College was eventually accepted by its fellow specialist colleges. I’m proud to have seen the College strengthen and grow over the years.

A picture from the first College conference in 1974