Legendary baby doc John Pardey calls time on 34-year career

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Associate Professor John Pardey enjoys his retirement.

Associate Professor John Pardey has delivered his last baby, marking an end to his 34-year career at Nepean Hospital which has seen him provide obstetric care for tens of thousands of women.

According to Pardey, going into obstetrics was never an obvious career choice for him, noting that most careers rather ‘happen to people’.

“I did six months of women’s health because I wanted to do something by way of trauma surgery or something surgical in emergency, because I was an adrenaline junkie back then, and I thought knowing which end of a pregnant woman was which was going to be useful for doing that,” he said.

“I did a six-month term to do a diploma of obstetrics, and at the end of that time, the midwife took me out to dinner and said, ‘You should be doing this’, and I stayed on for another three months and the boss said, ‘You should be doing this’, and they organised me a job in New Zealand.”

Little did he know, this would be the beginning of a long career which would see him also work in England before making his way to Nepean Hospital.

Pardey has personally delivered 10,058 babies through his private practice, in addition to many more public deliveries – a number he finds difficult to conceptualise.

Sharing that one of his recent scrub nurses was a baby he delivered, Pardey said he well and truly feels part of the Penrith community, so much so that he considers Nepean Hospital as his own.

“My mother died there, my youngest daughter was born here, my wife and I have both been admitted through the uni, as has at least one of my daughters, one of my daughters was a trainee doctor here, and my youngest daughter is just about to start her internship having been a med student there,” he said.

“I am of this community, and that hospital belongs to the community, and it belongs to me in the same sense that it belongs to my next-door neighbour and my neighbour beyond that, and I am very proud of this community. I have never been ashamed to be associated with Nepean Hospital.”

As for what’s kept him going for so many years, Pardey said he’s been driven by a sense of duty to his patients.

“I think to do obstetrics well, and to do medicine well, I believe you have to love every one of them a little bit,” he said.

Upon reflecting on his career, it’s no surprise that Pardey is most proud of the lives he’s saved and the suffering he’s ended – even if he struggles to say it.

“I try very hard not to say ‘I’ve saved your life’ – that cripples people and gives people a sense of debt,” he said.

“If you’ve done that, they usually know, but to let people move on with their normal life is so important.”

Now that he’s ready to retire, however, Pardey said there’s one thing in particular that he will miss.

“At the moment of birth, pain, fear, months of anxiety and ambition, suddenly go, and the mother looks at her baby, and if I could crystallise that moment and make it into a pill, I’d be a billionaire, because that moment for me is the most beautiful moment of human existence – that sudden moment of love,” he said.

“As corny as it sounds, there is no equal, and I will miss it until the day I die.”

However, he hopes to see his legacy live on through those he’s trained.

“There’s not one of them who’s not going to be a better surgeon than me – most of them already are – and that’s okay,” he said.

“There’s a line in a famous play called ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ where he says, ‘good, better, best, bested’, and whoever you are, if you have a responsibility for teaching, that should be your goal. You aim to be good, you aim to get better, you hope to be the best one day, and you hope to train those coming after you to exceed you, and as you retire, the job is going to be better done because you were there.”

So what’s next for Pardey?

“I’ve been asked to go and teach some surgery in the Solomon Islands, and I’ll do that,” he said.

“My daughter who’s just graduated med school, she starts her internship out here, and she’s talking about doing a Master of Surgery, and last night over dinner, the conversation was around if I’d do it with her, and I may just do that!”

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