By Luke Voogt
When David Watters first travelled to Papua New Guinea in 1992 the country had 14 surgeons in a population of four million.
But the Newtown surgeon and new member of the Order of Australia helped get that number over 100.
For eight years Professor Watters supervised and performed surgery on locals who travelled across jungle and mountains for lifesaving treatment.
He also performed surgery in Zambia and South Africa throughout most of the 1980s.
The locals bore their suffering stoically, he said.
“You can see it in their faces. You can always do something to alleviate people’s suffering but it doesn’t mean you can always cure them.”
But the surgeons he trained had saved tens of thousands of lives since, he estimated.
“When you send patients back to be with their family it’s one of the most satisfying things about being a surgeon,” he said.
“It’s no different in Geelong doing an operation.”
The Edinburgh University graduate moved to Geelong in 2000 where he has taught the next generation of surgeons.
“People actually want to train in Geelong now,” he said.
He has directed endocrine and colorectal surgery at Barwon Health since 2002 and served in several roles on the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.
Prof Watters returned to Papua New Guinea last year and was thrilled with how local surgeons had progressed.
Whether in Geelong or overseas “it’s all about seeing them do great things for their patients,” he said.