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Awarded for service to Medicine
Entered on roll: 2006
Heather Gibson was born in 1919 in Launceston and became a leading figure in the establishment of the School Medical Service in Tasmania.
Although considered an unusual occupation for a woman at that time, Heather chose to study medicine at the Melbourne University and graduated in 1942 at the age of 23.
After returning to Hobart, she married Sam Gibson and took up a position of junior resident, registrar and admitting officer at the Royal Hobart Hospital. Following five years’ leave to have children, Heather worked for 34 years from 1950 as the Senior School Medical Officer in the School Medical Service, within the Department of Health. She became well known to thousands of teachers, parents and children as the ‘school doctor’.
Although Heather had a position as a public sector medical practitioner with no formal academic appointment, she undertook substantial research into childhood diseases concentrating on obesity, asthma and iodine deficiency disorders.
Her work is now known for its unique scale and thorough reporting. Much of her work continues to provide a basis for ongoing study into those areas.
In November 2003, Professor Haydn Walters (Professor, Medicine, University of Tasmania) described Heather’s original study of 8,500 children as one of the most important community and family studies on asthma, with worldwide implications.
Another landmark study conducted by Heather was the Surveillance of Iodine Deficiency Disorders in Tasmania 1949 to 1984. This was first published as a monograph in 1995. In 2006, Professor Eastman AM (Weastmead Hospital, NSW) launched a reprint of the study and commented that if it were submitted today, it would be worthy of a doctorate.
Heather retired in 1984 and died in 2005 in Hobart having made a significant contribution to the Tasmanian community and provided a wonderful role model for women entering the field of medicine.