Book Review: “Have Stethoscope, Will Travel” by Dr Anthony Radford

Review – Dr Paul Mercer


from Luke’s Journal 2018 | Hot Topics #1 | Vol. 23 No. 3

Anthony Radford is an academic, clinician, family man and relational human being, whose servant-hearted commitment to rural South Australia speaks volumes to a life of integrated work and faith.

Anthony is also a person who both reflected on, and documented, his life and work through the keeping of a detailed diary. His dense story-telling demonstrates what Jesus called “having eyes to see and ears to hear”.

Here is the story of a doctor who had achieved much in an academic and clinical career but who still remained energetic, clinically inquisitive and willing to serve despite having “retired” at 56 years of age. At this point in his life, Anthony was drawn to serve rural practitioners in South Australia and NT by providing locum relief services. In his own words, Anthony decided “to combine my desire to both explore my home state and provide relief for country doctors”.

Wherever the rainbow leads

There is a strong feel of being “grey nomads” in this memoir for Anthony and his wife, Robin. They travelled far and wide, on good roads and through “bull dust”, to not only get to a locum destination but also thoroughly explore each locality and embrace the natural beauty and flora and fauna of each destination. At times they encountered “sheep per kilometre” country; at others, places where the “outback meets the sea”. The Radfords were an inquisitive couple, who were keen to meet and learn about the characters, the history and the first Australians, wherever the rainbow led them. They allowed a sense of adventure to always call them on, to integrate new information and worship in pioneer church structures as well as new ones.

Anthony’s diary documentation of accommodation, road conditions and eating places blesses these ordinary facts with a sense of wonder and gratitude. His introduction to rural South Australia makes the reader feel like a fly on the back of his neck.

“Anthony brings the work of rural GPs to centre stage in the book while putting many a face on the health concerns in the bush”

This adventure also captures some of the pathos of rural decline in Australia. The bush accounts for 11% of the state population compared to 40% in 1921. The details provided in the stories remind me of the fast action style of Mark’s gospel. Anthony is keen to demonstrate that the Christian gospel story reads us wherever we are. Chapter 2 in the book tells the story of the “Tea and sugar train”, which ran from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie in WA. It is packed with interesting scraps and stories and is a highlight for me, a real must-read.

The other objective of this ‘exploring’ was to do locum work. Always on home ground, Anthony brings the work of rural GPs to centre stage in the book while putting many a face on the health concerns in the bush. Dr Radford not only demonstrates his clinical skills and reasoning ability, but also reveals his discerning academic mind. He is never afraid to give his opinion or deconstruct the health politics and economics that result in poorer health outcomes in rural areas. He wants his stethoscope to be a megaphone to advocate for rural folk who, through lack of access, present late, don’t have opportunities for specialist care and who want to die with dignity.

“The collaborative nature of Anthony’s practice is made evident in almost every story and visit.”

Somehow Anthony and Robin have taken the challenge of serving another doctor’s patients in remote, unsupported contexts and made it seem like “a stroll downtown”. In between they were able to serve, in a pastoral role, medical and allied health colleagues. The collaborative nature of Anthony’s practice is made evident in almost every story and visit.

Approaching retirement? Anthony Radford has a job description for you. Thinking of having a holiday in South Australia? The Radfords are ready to be your tour guide. Wanting to integrate work with your faith and your community? Let the Holy Spirit teach you via the example of this everyday saint. There will be more dead brown rabbits than you bargained for.

Dr Paul Mercer – Editor
Dr Paul Mercer is a GP principal at Manly in Queensland. He is the editor of Luke’s Journal and among other things is part of the “Theology on Tap” team in Brisbane and has been a member of the CMDFA ethics working group.

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