Associate Professor John Svigos reflects on his career as an obstetrician-gynaecologist

Sophie McNamara
Med J Aust
Published online: 21 November 2011

Associate Professor John Svigos is an obstetrician-gynaecologist at Women’s Health Specialists in Adelaide and an associate professor in obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Adelaide. Since completing his medical degree in 1970, he estimates that he has delivered between 12 000 and 13 000 babies. He was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to medicine in 2010. He received the highest award from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) — the President’s Medal — in 2008.

“I had some wonderful
experiences delivering babies as
a 5th-year medical student, which is
why I decided to enter obstetrics and
gynaecology training. I really owe
everything I’ve done in obstetrics and
gynaecology to the trusting nature of the
women in Woodville, Adelaide, who let a
bumbling student deliver their baby.
I still remember the first baby
I delivered. It was the fourth baby
for an Italian lady. She was screaming
and crying — there were no epidurals
in those days. After we delivered the
placenta and washed the sheets, I was
making a cup of tea for the mother and I
had this wonderful experience of seeing
her with her child in a very serene,
Madonna and Child-type pose, having
previously been screaming in all sorts of
agony. There was this beautiful serenity
and peace, and I thought, ‘This is magic,
I’m very lucky to have been a part of this’.
I still get that feeling every time.
I’ve delivered three babies in the past
12 hours and each was terrific. Every
time there’s something different. There’s
nothing routine about it. That’s what is
exciting about obstetrics.
My practice is a bit biased towards
obstetrics but, really, I’m a generalist.
I do obstetrics and gynaecology, as well
as teaching and working in both public
and private practice. I deliver around 250
to 300 babies a year. I’ve also had the

excitement of delivering babies for some
of the girls I had delivered years ago.
That adds another special layer for me.
There was
this beautiful
serenity and
peace, and I
thought, ‘This
is magic, I’m
very lucky to
have been a
part of this’.

I teach a whole array of people
from 5th-year medical students to
midwives and trainee O&Gs. I also act
as a mentor to overseas institutions,
principally in Bali, Indonesia. I have
AusAid funding for three maternal–fetal
medicine trainees to rotate through
Adelaide for 2 months. I’ve also worked
at Vellore in southern India as a visiting
professor, and in Penang, Malaysia, as
a mentor. I also worked in Cape Town,
South Africa, in 1976–1977, which was
an enormous challenge for my wife and
our three children who were all under 5
years of age. There was outright warfare
in the streets because of apartheid. The
experience in obstetrics and gynaecology
was awesome, while the sociopolitical
experience gave us a long-lasting social
maturity and a keen appreciation of the
freedom we have in Australia. Working
overseas has been one of the highlights
of my career.
I think mentoring is incredibly
important, particularly because we’re
becoming more isolated in our practice.
As a mentor, you have different roles
— you can be a coach, an adviser, a
counsellor, a facilitator, or a confidant.
You have to be committed and make
time for it. You have to be patient and
you need to try and take a neutral
viewpoint rather than defend those you
are mentoring to the hilt. You also need

The specialty has changed
considerably over the years. Some
patients look up everything online before
they come to see you, so you have to
give very succinct explanations, almost
in competition with Wikipedia and
Google. The other thing that’s changed
considerably is patient expectations.
They’ve gone up, and rightly so. We try
very hard to meet them. Technically,
we’re required to do many more
operations and procedures than ever
before. When I first started in the
specialty, there was no ultrasound, no
laparoscopy — none of the tools that we
now have and take for granted.
I might be old but I don’t feel old,
and I certainly don’t feel like I’m on top
of everything. I’m learning every day. I
learn a lot from the people I teach. I was
an examiner with RANZCOG recently
and I learnt a lot by discussing cases with
my colleagues. It was a very rewarding
There’s nothing about the day-
to-day activity I don’t like. I don’t
mind getting up early in the morning.
My dad was a newsagent so I used to get
up early and roll the newspapers for him.
Even with things like breaking bad news,
I think that presents a challenge. Anyone
can be a good doctor when everything’s
going well; it’s when things are going
bad that you develop as a doctor. That’s
when patients are looking for that little
extra, something to get them through
that difficult time. That’s where you’ve
got to pull out all stops and give them
the benefit of everything you’ve got to try
and help them.”
Interview by Sophie McNamara

  • Sophie McNamara



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