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March 2009 Issue
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Five decades of service recognised

A world-first discovery and years of dedication to the rural and medical communities have earned a University of Adelaide graduate the Distinguished Alumni Award.

Dr Robert Cooter AM, who graduated in 1952 with an MBBS, received the award at the University's graduation ceremonies last December in recognition of more than 50 years of medical service, education and training.

Dr Cooter was a rural General Practitioner in Port Augusta from 1955 to 1972.

One of his most significant accomplishments was the confirmation and discovery of the cause of a rare and fatal amoebic meningitis. This disease resulted in the deaths of 20 children and young adults in the towns of Port Augusta (15 victims), Port Pirie (three) and Kadina (two).

In 1966, Dr Cooter performed a lumbar puncture on a 10-year-old boy at Port Augusta; following review of the boy's spinal fluid under a microscope, Dr Cooter and his partner Dr John Mickan identified a live amoeba for the first time. Based on their research of environmental and epidemiological factors, and case histories of victims, Dr Cooter and Dr Mickan strongly suspected that the source of the amoeba was in the River Murray pipeline water. This suspicion was later confirmed.

Dr Cooter has contributed countless hours to the training of future rural doctors. He was the inaugural Chairman of the Rural Health Committee of the South Australian branch of the Australian Medical Association (AMA). In 1976 he established a rural locum service, which was the forerunner to the current rural locum model for South Australia. Later he initiated Continuing Medical Education tours and conferences in rural areas with specialists in Emergency Medicine.

In the late 1970s he became Convener-Chairman of the Rural Health Elective Committee of the Royal Australian College of General Practice (RACGP). This committee conceived the first rural GP training program in Australia. The first program was established in South Australia and was later adopted by other States.

In the late 1980s Dr Cooter was appointed as the Convenor of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Task Force on Improving Aboriginal Health. As part of this role he visited 24 Aboriginal communities and wrote a paper recommending a range of strategies to help improve Aboriginal health.

Dr Cooter also gave 32 years of service to the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS). He was a flying doctor in the Port Augusta general practice for 10 years, and later President of RFDS Central Operations (South Australia and Northern Territory).

In recognition of his commitment to the rural and medical community, Dr Cooter has been: admitted to the Roll of Fellows of the Australian Medical Association; awarded a Member of the Order of Australia (AM); awarded life membership of the Royal Flying Doctor Service; awarded the first life membership of the Rural Doctors Association of SA; and three international and several district awards for service to health presented by Lions Australia.

Dr Cooter has also contributed significantly to the University's Alumni program over many years as an active committee member of the Florey Medical Alumni Network.

"The University of Adelaide Distinguished Alumni Awards recognise alumni who have given outstanding service to the University of Adelaide, to the community or have made an outstanding contribution in their chosen field," said the Director of Development and Alumni, Robyn Brown.

"This award has been made to Dr Cooter in recognition of his outstanding and innovative vision for rural health, which has been important in laying the foundation for rural health training in general practice in South Australia, together with his continued contact and support of the University of Adelaide over many years.

"Dr Cooter is a worthy recipient of this prestigious award," Ms Brown said.

Story by David Ellis

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Dr Robert Cooter and wife Marie (centre) with their five daughters (from left), Jane, Susan, Elizabeth, Robyn and Anne
Photo by Kim Harvey

Dr Robert Cooter and wife Marie (centre) with their five daughters (from left), Jane, Susan, Elizabeth, Robyn and Anne
Photo by Kim Harvey

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