Leading heart surgeon heads School of Rural Medicine

Published 17 October 2011

petermckeownProfessor Peter McKeown’s ambition is to help build “the best medical school in Australia”.

After a career in the United States that saw him become one of that nation’s leading heart surgeons, Professor McKeown has returned to his native Australia to take a leading role in the innovative Joint Medical Program (JMP) as Head of the School of Rural Medicine at the University of New England. He started work in that role at the end of September.

“Our mission in UNE’s School of Rural Medicine,” he said, “together with the University of Newcastle (our partner in the JMP), is to take on first-year medical students who, by the end of their degree program, will have become the best possible physicians – in terms of knowledge, technical skills, and compassionate care.”

“The skill set necessary to practise medicine in a rural community is extraordinary,” Professor McKeown said. “But with our own resources and those of the University of Newcastle, and through our collaborative relationship with the University of California Irvine School of Medicine, we can develop a very advanced curriculum – and provide a mixture of rural, urban, and international experience – that will produce world-class graduates.

“We have the potential to really make a difference. Within the community, for example, UNE and its Medical School can create clinical centres of excellence. It’s often difficult to attract practitioners to rural communities, and in this way we could play an important role in enhancing both the personal and professional satisfaction of physicians who choose to move here.”

“I’m excited to be here at the University of New England,” he said. “I was attracted by the reputation of UNE as a leading provider of distance – as well as on-campus – tertiary education, and by the culture of an innovative rural university. And the opportunity to build a medical school was irresistible.”

Peter McKeown (pictured here) received his medical school training at the University of Queensland before leaving Australia for postgraduate training in the United States and Europe. He has held senior clinical and professorial positions at the Veterans Administration Medical Centre in Lexington (Kentucky) and Asheville (North Carolina), and the positions of Professor of Surgery at the University of South Florida and Consulting Professor of Surgery at Duke University, North Carolina. At the time of accepting the position at UNE he held a professorial clinical position – and was a surgeon – at The Heart Institute, Pikeville Medical Centre, Kentucky, and was a Consultant Staff Physician at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. He holds Master of Public Administration and Master of Public Health degrees from Harvard University and an MBA degree from the University of South Florida, is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, and has been listed in the Consumers’ Research Council of America in its Guide to America’s Top Surgeons.

Professor McKeown has a long-term interest in rural medicine, and in his position at The Heart Institute he was involved in developing a sophisticated cardiovascular and thoracic surgery program in a very rural and under-served part of America.

One of his major research interests is the use of simulation in medical and surgical education, and he is particularly enthusiastic about the partnership with the UC Irvine School of Medicine that will give UNE access to the Irvine School’s advanced simulation facilities via the Internet.

Professor McKeown and his wife Mary will be living in Armidale, while their four adult children are pursuing their careers in South Africa, Panama, and the United States. “I have family in Queensland,” he said, “and it’s good to be back home in Australia.”