I was brought up in a small country town 16 miles from the city of Brisbane, in the State of Queensland, Australia. My parents had a general store in the town that was surrounded by small dairy farms. As was usual in such situations, the family assisted in maintaining the family business. My brother and I both worked in the store until we had finished our University studies. In my first year at school I was one of a class of 10 in a two teacher school in which each teacher taught a number of different grades.
My secondary schooling and University studies were undertaken in Brisbane, and I graduated M.B, B.S. from the University of Queensland in 1959.
After one year of pathology training in a general laboratory in Brisbane, I went to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea to fulfil the conditions of a scholarship I gained in my 4th year of medicine. To my surprise, two weeks after my arrival, the Director of Public Health appointed me to be the Acting Director of Pathology for the whole country with the brief to establish a viable National pathology service. I had no doubt that I could do this because I had taken trouble to make sure that I knew as much as possible about all the sections of a pathology department, including how to run a blood banking and transfusion service.
My appointment to this position opened the door to a unique opportunity to study the diseases of a Stone Age people at the time of their first contact with modern medical services, and for at least half of them, their first contact with any people outside their own tribal boundaries. Moreover, I was able to help in the establishment of a Medical School that in 2010 celebrated its 50th year since foundation, and to study the changes in the disease patterns that occurred since then.
During the first two years in PNG I was strongly supported with consultative advice from my mentor in Brisbane, Redmond Quinn, and from two of the leading pathologists in Australia at that time, Vincent McGovern in Sydney and Rolf ten Seldam in Perth. Then I spent two years at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School in London, England. This was a wonderful opportunity to work in a highly academic environment where ‘nothing was uncommon’ and from which base I was able to study Tropical Medicine, both at the RPMS, and in some of the other world leading institutions in London. When I returned for another two years in PNG I was well equipped to make a serious study of the diseases that I had encountered there. This formed the basis of my Doctor of Medicine thesis.
Work as a specialist Anatomical Pathologist
In 1968 I was appointed Director of Anatomical Pathology at the Royal Brisbane Hospital, the largest teaching hospital in Brisbane and one of the largest in Australia. I held this position for 23 years until I took the option of ‘early retirement’ with a view to doing some things that I had not been able to do before. At this time I was given the rare title of Emeritus Consultant in recognition of distinguished service to the hospital. In 2011 this was further enhanced by the award of a Life Time Distinguished Service Award.
When I arrived in Brisbane, there was no one who was particularly experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of tropical medicine. By default I at least partly filled this role, especially amongst the staff of the RBH.
My experience in the management of Malaria led to some papers on the subject, and at one of the International Meetings of the Haematology Society of Australia, I was invited to attend a weekend course in Malaria to speak on the diagnosis and TREATMENT of malaria.
I took a keen interest in undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, in continuing education of pathologists, and in quality control in Anatomical Pathology.
Since 1968 I have been giving lectures to undergraduate medical students almost every week. With the establishment of 3 new medical schools in Queensland, I now give lectures at 4 different medical schools.
My department has had a very high pass rate for trainees sitting for the Fellowship examinations of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia. We have conducted and contributed to more educational slide seminars for the RCPA and for the Australasian Division of the IAP than any other department in the Country.
In 1976 on behalf of the RCPA I established the first Quality Assurance Programme in Anatomical Pathology in Australia and New Zealand. This was one of the first of its kind in the world. I ran this until 1982 when I developed a slide exchange continuing education programme especially for pathologists working alone or in pairs in country hospitals. I continued this until 2003 when I tried to convert it to a digital form of continuing medical education to replace the glass slides. In conjunction with a computer programmer I developed a ‘virtual slide’ that could be stored on a CD for distribution and examination by participants.
At the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Australasian Division of the IAP in 2006 the General Surgical Pathology seminar was presented in this format with a CD and a discussion book in full colour.
Since 2006 all the slide seminars for the Annual Scientific Meetings of the Australasian Division of the IAP have been presented in this format. In 2011 there was a noticeable increase in the number of participants who purchased these seminars with colour booklets, so we can assume that the acceptance is increasing.
I have published over 70 articles in peer reviewed journals together with the following books.
Cooke RA and Stewart B Colour Atlas of Anatomical Pathology. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone. 1987.
A third edition of this book was published in 2004. It has a five star rating in Amazon.com
The first and second editions were published in Spanish, Japanese and Greek. A Russian translation of the third edition was released in Jan 2005 and a Japanese translation was released in 2006.
Cooke RA Scientific Medicine in the Twentieth Century – A Commemoration of 100 years of the International Association of Medical Museums and the International Academy of Pathology. Prepared at the request of the organising committee of the XXVI -100th Anniversary- International Congress of the International Academy of Pathology. 2006
Cooke RA Infectious Diseases – text – atlas – cases. Sydney, McGraw-Hill 2008
This book has had very flattering reviews.
In July 2009 it received a National award from the Australian book publishers as the best scientific book published in 2008.
It also won first prize in one category, and a highly commended in another in the 2009 British Medical Association book awards for the best books published in 2008. The BMA reviewer’s comment “I’ve seen nothing like it in respect of its capacity to draw the reader into the topic in 34 years of study and practice.”
After two years as President of the Australasian Division of the IAP I became Editor of the News Letter of the Division in 1989.
In 1995 I became Editor of the News Bulletin of the International Academy of Pathology.
I continue to hold these positions. Both publications have become a photographic record of members who attend these meetings, and of distinguished speakers at the meetings. In the News Bulletin I have tried to include reports on the pathology and the pathologists from many of the 55 Divisions of the IAP. In effect I have tried to present the members of the IAP to each other.
Awards from the IAP
Gold medals for distinguished service from the Australasian Division of IAP and from the International Academy of Pathology.
In 2006 the Australasian Division of IAP created a new category, a Robin Cooke Medal to acknowledge particularly distinguished service to the Division.
No-one can do these sorts of things without the support and assistance of a cooperative wife and family, and I wish to acknowledge their help and support.