Celebrating the extraordinary contribution of Professor Phil Harris AM to Health
As a young doctor and aspiring cardiologist working at RPA in the early 1970s, Phil Harris observed many men in their 40s and 50s die of heart attacks.
Lifestyle factors such as smoking, cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity and obesity combined with limited treatment options meant the death rate from heart attack was high. Those patients who didn’t die from their heart attack remained severely debilitated.
“At the time my colleagues said to me, ‘Why would you want to be a cardiologist?’, because there’s nothing you can do with patients who’ve had a heart attack,” Professor Harris AM said.
“But that turned out to be totally wrong. There have been amazing developments in diagnosis and treatment such as stents, medications and the evolution of safe heart surgery that have dramatically changed the way we treat patients with heart disease.”
“I’ve seen the situation progress from being able to do very little for people with heart attack to an array of treatment options that mean deaths have diminished
dramatically and people can live normal lives,” he said.
In the decades since he was appointed Cardiology Registrar at RPA’s Hallstrom Institute of Cardiology, Professor Harris has been instrumental in developing and delivering world-class cardiac care to patients in Sydney and across NSW.
Appointed a Cardiology Staff Specialist in 1986, he rose to the position of RPA’s Head of the Division of Medicine in 1996. He was appointed as the Clinical Director of Cardiovascular Services for Sydney South West Area Health Service in 2008, a position he continued to hold when Sydney Local Health District was established in 2011.
Sydney Local Health District Chief Executive Dr Teresa Anderson AM said Professor Harris had applied his considerable leadership skills to a multitude of areas in Health.
“His service has contributed, not only to the ongoing development of Cardiovascular, but to other clinical services as well,” she said.
In addition to his clinical work, Professor Harris received several major research grants and has published hundreds of articles in peer-reviewed journals including the Lancet, as well as contributed to numerous textbooks. In 1992 he was appointed Clinical Professor at the University of Sydney’s Central Clinical School.
He also decided he could make a difference in health administration. He has served on the Boards of the Institute of Clinical Excellence, the Clinical Excellence Commission and HealthShare NSW. He was Chair of the Board of South West Sydney Local Health District from 2011 to 2018.
“My desire was always to do what I could for patients but I realised as a doctor you’re doing it on a one-on-one basis but being involved in the management of health resources a higher level allows you to influence the wellbeing of a much larger number of patients,” he said.
A former Rhodes Scholar who completed his training at Duke University as an NHMRC Fellow, Professor Harris’s list of appointments, memberships of committees and professional organisations is extensive. He has previously been the President of the National Heart Foundation (NSW Division), the President of the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand and a Board member of the Heart Research Institute. His remarkable contribution to Health was recognised when he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2009.
“We are grateful to have had someone of Phil’s leadership, dedication and intellect as a member of the RPA and the Sydney Local Health District family for so long,” Dr Anderson said.
As he winds down from full-time clinical practice, Professor Harris says he is grateful to his childhood family GP who urged him to pursue a career as a physician at RPA.
“He argued ‘PA was the best hospital, so I decided to join the best hospital,” he said.
“It’s been an absolutely fulfilling and rewarding experience to be a cardiologist at ‘PA where I’ve fulfilled my boyhood dreams.
“To be involved in the leadership of the hospital and the Sydney Local Health District and to be Chair of the Board at SWSLHD has been an absolute privilege.”
Sydney Local Health District will pay tribute to Professor Harris with a special Cardiology Day on Friday May 3 at RPA’s Kerry Packer Education Centre.