Dr Pam Harrison recognised in Australia Day Honours

Congratulations to Dr Pam Harrison who was awarded an OAM in the 2022 Australia Day Honours for her contribution to palliative care and community history. A simple phrase that belies the extensive contribution of Pam to the Mater and the Hunter community!

Pam has dedicated her life to improving health care for the people of Newcastle and Hunter region and beyond; she has shown selfless dedication throughout her career and even in retirement, Pam continues to contribute to the community through her role as historian and author.

Many Mater staff will be familiar with Pam as she can be seen regularly at the hospital through her role on our Heritage Committee where she painstakingly gives her time to help ensure the history of the Newcastle Mater Misericordiae Hospital is sensitively archived. Pam can also be seen caring for the meticulously catalogued and much-loved Pathology museum she set up in 1997, and displayed in cabinets located outside Amigos.

However, many staff may not know how Pam has had a deep impact on the hospital and the formation of some of its services. Pam first joined the Newcastle Mater Misericordiae Hospital in 1954 when its Pathology Department was beginning a time of growth. Pam was hired as a trainee pathology technician and it is then that Pam’s loyalty and commitment to both the hospital and its patients started.

After working in London, Pam was awarded a Mature Age Scholarship and studied Medicine at the University of Sydney. After graduating, she trained as a haematologist and became the Director of the Royal Newcastle Hospital and District Blood Transfusion Service in 1975. She was seconded to the Newcastle Mater Misericordiae Hospital (Mater) as a haematologist in 1976, part-time, and was appointed full-time haematologist at the Mater in 1979.

Pam introduced clinical haematology services and created the Hunter Haemophilia Treatment Centre. The appointment of Sister Kay Sheridan RSM RN in 1980 enhanced this service as Kay was able to care for haemophiliacs and their families and train them in home therapy.

In 1982, Pam was a member of the Hunter Valley Oncology Group where the Mater team took the initiative of co-ordinating and developing oncology services in the Hunter Valley. This membership resulted in Pam becoming aware of palliative care services, which were not then available in the Hunter. It was through Pam’s insight as a haematologist in caring for terminally ill patients that she recognised the need for support services in this area of oncology, to support both the patient and their carer.

In August 1983, with the approval and support of the CEO, Sister Mary Tarcissius RSM, Pam, together with Sister Mary Brendan (Mary O’Connor) RSM RN, initiated and developed the Palliative Care Service at the Mater in a voluntary capacity and without funding. Pam wrote a submission outlining the need and function of the service, and in October 1983, the Medical Board passed a resolution recommending the establishment of a Palliative Care Service under the direction of Pam.

Through Pam’s direction, the Palliative Care Service continued to expand. Pam was also successful in securing donations and resources, while continuing her work as haematologist.

In April 1985, Pam started educating medical students in palliative care. At the University of Newcastle, she gave the first of three teaching seminars on palliative care to 4th year medical students. This was the first time palliative care had been included as part of the medical teaching curriculum in Newcastle, and predated such programmes in many other university medical faculties in Australia. Pam also gave tutorials to medical students at the Mater Hospital.

Pam’s involvement finished at the end of 1986 when the service was fully funded and her voluntary contribution was no longer required.

Over time it became clear a hospice was needed but there was no such service in the Hunter. Community money raised through the NBN Telethon allowed the hospital’s 20-bed hospice to open in 1993 and since then it has cared for thousands of patients. It is thanks to Pam and Sr Brendan’s commitment and insight that this service was set-up and has since grown to the service it is today.

In 2000, Pam received an invitation as a Foundation Fellow of the Australasian Chapter of Palliative Medicine (FAChPM) “in recognition of her voluntary work in initiating and developing the Newcastle Mater Misericordiae Hospital Palliative Care Service”.

Aside from Pam’s pioneering work at the hospital, Pam is also a prolific Hunter author historian who has penned many books including history and recollections of the Newcastle Mater Misericordiae Hospital: SS Gardiner Pathology Department, and Newcastle Mater Misericordiae Hospital Palliative Care service: from conception to viability: August 1983 – December 1986.

Pam’s contribution to the Mater has been extensive, visionary, and foundational to our work today. We join with the community in acknowledging and celebrating her as a most worthy recipient of an Order of Australia.