Photograph of Dr Jean Littlejohn (1899-1990)
Black and white photograph of Dr Jean Littlejohn (1899-1990) taken in the early 1930s.
Jean Littlejohn MBBS1922 (1899–1990) was born on 3 April 1899 in Nelson, New Zealand to Scottishborn parents. She came to Australia in 1904, when her father was appointed principal at Scotch College, Melbourne. Jean was educated at the Presbyterian Ladies College, where she was something of a champion tennis player, before studying medicine at the University of Melbourne.In 1922, her year of graduation, she was appointed to the Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital (VEEH), where she earned £150 per annum working in ear, nose and throat (ENT) and ophthalmology, and giving anaesthetics. Interested in ENT, she developed her technique for adenotonsillectomy, which was a one- to two-minute procedure using guillotine and curette. One week, she apparently operated on 28 mastoids! Dr Jean Littlejohn became medical superintendant at VEEH in 1923. She then went into private practice, although she also remained at the hospital, where she was appointed honorary surgeon in 1933, becoming the first woman to achieve this status.She was also appointed to Queen Victoria Hospital. She was awarded the Diploma in Otorhinolaryngology in 1933 and was admitted as a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 1935. In 1947, she became the first woman to be elected to the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Melbourne.Jean Littlejohn was dedicated to teaching and research, with an interest in infant deafness and pioneering the use of hearing aids for babies. When the Deafness Investigation and Research Unit was founded at VEEH in 1957 it was named after her, and,interestingly, here the cochlear implant was later developed. Jean Littlejohn was also involved in governance: from 1950 to 1952 as chair of medical staff at VEEH and for 13 years as a member of its committee of management,and as president of ASOHNS (the Australian Society of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery) in 1958–59. She was awarded the OBE and CBE, and retired from clinical medicine in 1978, at the age of 79. Jean Littlejohn was a pioneer in medicine—particularly as a female surgeon—but she was also a well-rounded person, with an active social and cultural life.
Dr Anne Cass
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