Rodney ‘Rod’ Gordon White

Born in Kadina in 1923, Rod was educated at St Peter’s College. In 1941 he started Medicine at Adelaide University.

Despite having a long family tradition of pharmacy, he chose medicine as a career – reputedly due to the fact that the medical course allowed a greater number of half-days off to play golf than did the pharmacy course. He achieved distinctions in his first year.

White & Stevenson, medicSA, June 2005

After only completing one year at University, world events interrupted. Rod joined the Royal Australian Navy, serving in the South-West Pacific during World War II. There he gained the rank of Sub-Lieutenant on 17 March 1945, with seniority in rank on 1 October 1943. On return to Adelaide, he finished his medical degree and graduated in 1948.

Royal Adelaide Hospital

From 1949 to 1952, Rod was Resident Medical Officer, then Surgical Registrar at Royal Adelaide Hospital. He resigned, becoming Registrar at Adelaide Children’s Hospital. However after a year, he returned to Royal Adelaide Hospital, working as a Pathological Registrar.

The resignation of Dr RG White as Pathological Registrar, to date from 30th Nov 1953, was also received, with a recommendation from the Medical Superintendent that it be accepted and that pro rata bonus be paid Dr White; also that the post be advertised. The Medical Superintendent intimated verbally that Dr White now asked that his appointment cease as from 31st December. Resignation accepted from 31st December and proportion of bonus to be paid to Dr White; the position of Pathological Registrar to be advertised.

Royal Adelaide Hospital Board Minutes, 27 October 1953

To gain his Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons, Rod went to the United Kingdom. He worked in hospitals in London, Nottingham and Essex gaining valuable orthopaedic training. 

“He returned to Australia in 1956 as Medical Officer on the last ship to get through the Suez Canal before it was closed in the Arab-Israeli war” White & Stevenson, medicSA, June 2005

His first role back in Adelaide was as specialist Orthopaedic Registrar at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. Only the year before, the Royal Adelaide Hospital began employing specialist registrars in the Orthopaedic Department. This made it possible for the department to have direct referrals from general practitioners and to take outpatients. At this time, the Orthopaedic Department started to perform orthopaedic surgery on musculo-skeletal trauma cases, giving Rod valuable experience.

A letter was received from the Honorary Medical Staff requesting that the Board consider appointing a Senior Surgical Registrar to the Orthopaedic Department indicating that Messrs EF West and JR Barbour (Honorary Orthopaedic Surgeons) had been consulted and were in complete agreement with this proposal … Comprehensive reports were received from the Medical Superintendent and Senior Surgical Registrar (Dr LE McEwan), recommending that the position be created without delay. It was pointed out by the Medical Superintendent that the only trained person available was Mr RG White, FRCS who returns to Adelaide in September, and approval was sought for him to commence duty on arrival in Adelaide.

Royal Adelaide Hospital Board Minutes, 27 August 1956

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital

When the general section of The Queen Elizabeth Hospital opened in 1958, a number of Royal Adelaide Hospital staff resigned to take up appointments. This included Rod, who was one of the first of the surgical staff to begin working there.

“Ward 6A was used by the specialties:  Orthopaedics (Rod White), Plastics (Tony Rieger), Eyes (Jim Lister) and ENT (Brian Rolland) … Unfortunately 6A only had 32 beds, which led initially to much shuffling of patients until the North Wing and the ninth floor were added”. WD Proudman – In the Beginning: The formative years of TQEH

WD Proudman – In the Beginning: The formative years of TQEH

Rod was in charge of the Orthopaedic Department including the Orthopaedic Clinic.  From the beginning, Rod’s Orthopaedic Clinic had a very close liaison with the Rheumatology Clinic ran by Dr Milazzo.  Initially two weekly clinical sessions were held. The patients, primarily those suffering from arthritis and rheumatic disorders, were admitted to hospital and accommodated on Ward 3B.

Rod “was by far the best golfer at TQEH … and had been Captain of Royal Adelaide Golf Club and was a regular member of their Simpson Cup team. He gave a first class orthopaedics service and took over the running of the Fracture Clinic and alternated with the plastic surgeons to manage the Hand Clinic”.

WD Proudman – In the Beginning: The formative years of TQEH

While Rod was a general orthopaedic surgeon, his main interest at this time, was in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.   In 1961, when the Australian Rheumatism Council proposed to establish an Australian Rheumatism Council Benevolent Fund in Australian teaching hospitals, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital was chosen above other South Australian hospitals. This was credited to the influence of both Rod and Dr Milazzo. The two joint clinics continued to grow and eventually became the Orthopaedic/ Rheumatological Clinic.

Vietnam War

During the Vietnam War, Rod spent three months in Bien Hoa, Vietnam with the Civilian Surgical Team, which had a profound effect on him.

Many major orthopaedic problems continue to present, and we are very glad indeed to have Rod White’s experience and ability in this field to call upon. He has done a number of orthopaedic cases for Dr Gene Edynak, from the nearby CIDG hospital.

Graham Wilson, Team Leader, Australian Surgical Team, Bien Hoa Provincial Hospital, July 1967
Australian Surgical Team, Bien Hoa Provincial Hospital, Vietnam, 1967

TQEH Joint Replacement

Following on from his interest in rheumatoid arthritis, Rod was an innovator in total joint replacement.  Rod was involved in the first total, hip, knee and elbow replacement operations in South Australia.

The first total hip replacement was performed by Rod White in 1968 using the Charnely method.  Sir John Charnley from Manchester, designed the first total hip replacement in the early 1960s. This involved using a metal ball in a Teflon socket and methyl methacrylate (bone cement) to fix the prosthesis to the bone.

As well as his lengthy service to The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Rod had a long connection with the Australian Orthopaedic Association.  He held positions of South Australian Chairman (1967 & 1970),  Federal Vice President (1976-1977) and Chairman of the Board of Studies (1976 & 1984).  He was also instrumental in setting up the South Australian Orthopaedic Training Programme.

On his retirement from The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in 1988, the hospital named the ‘Rod White Seminar Room and Teaching Facility in his honour.

Rod died 2nd April 2005.

Written by Margot Way, CALHN Health Museum