Russell Chisholm was born in Christchurch, New Zealand of mixed British stock: English, Irish and Scottish. He was educated at the Auckland Grammar School and the Waitaki Boys' High School. He distinguished himself at the Otago Medical School, topping his year in the final examination and gaining the Scholarship in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. After two years as resident at the Auckland Hospital he was appointed house surgeon at the Melbourne Women's Hospital. There he was the only one of six candidates to pass the MD examination. From there he travelled to London as ship's doctor and passed his MRCP examination within eight weeks of arrival, thus gaining both degrees within two years of his medical graduation.
After only one year in London, spent as house physician to the late Sir Russell Brain at the Maida Vale Hospital for Nervous Diseases, he returned to Wellington and later to Dunedin as medical tutor. He married Audrey Jones in 1933, and they moved to Palmerston North where he set up in private medical practice. As honorary visiting physician to the Palmerston North Hospital, he consulted widely, established a clinical society and was incidentally involved in part-time anaesthetics and obstetrics.
With the onset of World War II, the Royal New Zealand Air Force Base at Ohakea, near Wanganui, became an important focus for flight training and in 1940, Dr Chisholm was appointed full-time medical officer to the Air Force Base and Assistant Director of Medical Services (Air). He occupied this post with a rank of group captain for the next five years. In 1941, he sailed from Auckland on the troop ship 'Aorangi' to visit training centres in Canada and Great Britain. There he experienced a number of heavy bombing raids while in London and made an extensive tour of airforce bases, including Farnborough. On his return to New Zealand, he soon established an Aviation Medicine Training School with a staff of over 70 doctors and support staff. He was a frequent visitor to the Pacific war zone and visited Guadacanal during the allied counter invasion of that island.
At the end of the war he obtained his discharge from the airforce, but continued until the age of 78 years as honorary consultant in aviation medicine. For his services to aviation medicine, he was awarded the OBE (Military) in 1946. His first civilian medical appointment was to the Middlemore Hospital as senior visiting consultant. There he and his colleague Dr Ross Dreadon pioneered the early mobilisation of patients following myocardial infarction, an almost heretical concept at that time. After three or four years, he was appointed to a senior visiting post at the Auckland Hospital. At that time he arranged at his home a regular series of evening teaching sessions, based on patients seen in his private consultant practice. These proved very popular with young colleagues who were studying for postgraduate examinations. His diverse background and forthright opinion attracted many appointments.
Dr Chisholm became principal medical officer to the AMP Society and medical consultant to the New Zealand Railways, to the New Zealand Post Office, to Pan American Airways and Mobil Oil. He was also medical officer to the airforce, cardiologist to the ministry of transport, senior medical consultant to the engineering company constructing the Auckland Harbour Bridge and adviser to the government on the environmental aspects of gas turbines. He found the medicolegal aspects of these appointments particularly interesting. During this whole period he retained direct medical links and served on the Auckland Hospital board for eighteen years. He was a foundation fellow of the RACP (1938), honorary secretary of the dominion committee from 1950 to 1956, and New Zealand vice president from 1966 to 1968. He took an active interest in medical politics and was chairman of the New Zealand branch of the British Medical Association.
Russell Chisholm is remembered as a man of many interests, both medical and non-medical. He had a quick mind, a ready smile and his clipped, rapid speech bore witness to his immense energy, both mental and physical. During his student days he won the New Zealand University tennis championship and continued playing until late in his career. In retirement he demonstrated his skills in wood turning and fashioned many beautiful objects for his home and family. He wrote few scientific papers, but will be remembered as one who contributed much to the College and to the formative education of his younger colleagues.
© 2023 - Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) | ABN 90 270 343 237 and ACN 000 039 047.