Douglas Kevin Baird
20 June 1940 – 16 November 1995
“There was no better exemplar of the ideals of science, surgery, skill and sensitivity than Douglas Kevin Baird” – Professor Paul G. Bannon
Professor Douglas Baird was a truly great Australian with a passion for improving heart and lung surgical techniques for the benefit of all.
A young Baird developed his passion for cardiothoracic surgery whilst an intern at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH) and later became a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) in 1971.
His commitment to excellence in medicine and surgery was obvious as a medical undergraduate when, at Sydney University, he also completed a Bachelor of Medical Science (BMSc) and won seven prizes including the University Medal.
In his eulogy, Baird Institute patron, the Honourable Michael Kirby, described him thus: “Sweet was his nature and noteable his achievements”.
“I sat with Douglas on the Board of the Sydney University Union. True to his egalitarian ideals and his mother’s upbringing, he played a leading role in the amalgamation of the Union and the Women’s Union. In the heady debates of student affairs and the tough factional deals common in those far-off days, we forged a friendship that endured through the decades which followed…”
As a trainee surgeon, Doug Baird joined the third Australian Surgical Team to Vung Tau in the Republic of South Vietnam.
“He once told me that the heroic surgery into which he was suddenly thrust at an early age in Vietnam refined, under almost unendurable pressure, his surgical skills which were to become legendary.” Said Kirby.
Doug Baird went on to study in New Zealand and the United States as a Clinical Fellow of the National Heart Foundation. He became a Visiting Medical Officer in the Cardiothoracic Surgical Unit at RPAH in 1974 and, five years later, became Head of the Department.
“When action was needed, this was a most resourceful and talented professional man: swift of action and with a steely determination.” Said Kirby.
Doug developed a unique surgical practice in Australasia, founded on the principles of mutual respect, cooperation and partnership. He believed firmly that surgical outcomes must be continually measured and improved and his commitment to research in surgery was unmistakable.
Doug Baird was instrumental in developing the Heart Research Institute in Sydney, while also developing surgical databases for his department at RPAH, and for the National Heart Foundation of Australia.
His keen intellect combined with his natural diplomacy made him an able administrator for both RPAH and Central Sydney Area Health Service. He was appointed as an advisor to the governments of Singapore and Malaysia, was Chairman of the Board of Studies in Cardiothoracic Surgery (RACS) and championed a new and compassionate approach to the development of surgeons, their training and their careers.
He was devoted to his patients whom he saw as friends and many encounters in the operating room were destined to evolve into lifelong friendships.
“He was a gentle surgeon. He never lost interest in his patients. He understood their anxieties and the fears of their families. What a model he was for the best of medical practice that our country can produce.” Said Kirby.
Those who worked with him on a daily basis have said they knew they we were in the presence of greatness, yet he made them feel their ideas were worth listening to.
Baird was active in the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve and in the Scouting Association of Australia and, in 1992 was made a Member of the Order of Australia for services to medicine and youth.
He developed a unique surgical practice founded on principles of mutual respect, cooperation and partnership.
“We are proud to honour his example”
– Professor Paul G. Bannon