General Practitioner
medical politician and editor 
Peter began medical school with us in 1955. He completed his BSc and graduated MB BCh in 1961. Peter left South Africa “in protest against apartheid” immediately after graduation in 1961.

In this picture, from the front page of the Rand Daily Mail, of an anti-apartheid protest meeting in early 1961, by the swimming pool, we see Peter and his fianceé, Shirley Rutenberg. To her left is Jeff Maisels, son of Isie, Peter says: “I suspect that he was the focus of the cameraman's attention. Frightened the living daylight out of Shirley's parents. Her dad was told that BOSS had a dossier on me. By then, my father had left for Detroit.”

Peter married Shirley Rutenberg that year. They produced three daughters, two of whom are medical specialists.

After two years of residency, he dabbled in biochemistry, returning to university for a year at Medical BSc level. Asked to relieve two Sydney GPs for a month’s locum, he decided that he preferred people to test-tubes.

Here are Peter and Shirley in the early days

Peter’s practice, opposed to a Canadian-style Medicare government takeover, accepted payment from patients only. Peter helped establish the General Practitioners’ Society in Australia (GPSA), later serving for five years as its president.

He returned to university in 1973, majoring in Politics and Philosophy, with a minor in Economics. These areas of knowledge played a crucial role in his subsequent career.

In 1977, he addressed meetings of doctors in 13 US cities about the dangers of Joe Califano’s intended nationalized Medicare. He addressed similar meetings in Canada.

In 1986, he organized protests against amendments to the New South Wales Medical Practice (Registration) Act ”which would have curtailed doctors’ civil liberties”. Peter worked to ease the entry of foreign graduates, and initiated the New South Wales Medical (Registration) Board’s sympathetic management of ‘impaired’ doctors and medical students – alcohol, drugs, depression, dementia, diabetes, etc. He did similar work for the Nurses and Midwives Board and the Law Society.


After coronary artery bypass surgery in 1989, he retired to devote himself to the Medical Board, of which he became Deputy President – liaising closely with the US Federation of State Medical Boards; the Australian Medical Association, becoming New South Wales President and later Federal Chairman; the Medical Journal of Australia; the Medical Defence Union; the Doctors Health Advisory Service; the Medico-Legal Society and two hospital boards.

Much of this work is reflected in more than 100 pieces in the British Medical Journal, the Medical Journal of Australia, the New England Journal of Medicine and other journals and medical newspapers.

He initiated Sydney’s coronary ambulance service, taking acute care – oxygen, pain relief, anti-arrhythmic drugs – and later portable defibrillators, to patients’ homes.

His second career was as an editor, initially for the GPSA, later for the AMA and for Reader’s Digest’s and Dorling-Kindersley’s ‘Family health’ publications. He served on the Editorial Advisory Board of the Medical Journal of Australia and is now on the Editorial Board of the International Journal of Epidemiology. He has edited numerous papers gratis for colleagues and friends in a variety of areas – history, sociology, psychology and diverse medical fields – and still does.

Facilitated by his early retirement from practice, Peter found much satisfaction “minding baby grandchildren when their doctor-mothers returned to work.”

He is delighted that one grandson is part-way through his medical course and that a granddaughter is studying speech pathology.

In 2007, Peter co-authored Worlds Apart: The Re-Migration of South African Jews, followed in 2011 by A Unique Migration: South African Doctors Fleeing to Australia.

Here we see the medical student grandson – a fourth generation medico on both sides of his family.

In recognition of his achievements and meritorious service, Peter was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in the 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honors.

Peter Chester Arnold OAM BSc MB BCh (Rand) BA
Sydney, Australia