Leading pathologist says teamwork is the key

Monday 24 September, 2012

Professor Warick Delprado

When leading pathologist Professor Warick Delprado spoke at Warrane on 12 September 2012, he emphasised the importance of teamwork.

Director of Histopathology at Douglass Hanly Moir and Adjunct Professor of Pathology at the School of Medicine, University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Professor Delprado also encouraged students to think carefully about the contribution they could make to society.

“You guys have got the opportunity at this stage to make a difference and to evolve and to build your lives,” he said. “You have all got the right start and the ability to make a difference.”

As someone who has carried out more than 1200 autopsies, he said that he had learnt that everyone was the same inside. Everyone essentially had the same organs and body. What mattered was what you did with yourself, with your life. And you cannot function all by yourself.

“I learnt very early on in my life that it is all about teamwork if you want to get anything done,” he said. This was one of his earliest lessons in the workplace, one which he had learnt when he was a young man working at Woolworths on the checkout.

“I made a few vaguely horrendous mistakes about how to relate to people and how to handle people. And I learnt that bossing people around wasn’t the best way to get along with people. It was actually about working together as a team and about building relationships. If you want to get things done, if you want to make a difference, that is what it is all about.”

This lesson had been confirmed throughout his career, particularly when he had worked at in the heart transplant program at St Vincent’s Hospital with the famous heart-transplant pioneer, Dr Victor Chang.

“It was the quintessential teamwork environment that I got exposed to,” he said. “He (Dr Chang) was somebody who was a good technocrat, but he also had a good system in place where if you wanted to have a team you supported them, you created the right environment and you allowed them to do the job.

“You didn’t actually tell them what to do. It was your job as leader to create an environment where those people could do their job and they could push the envelope because they were usually motivated enough.”

Professor Delprado said that Dr Chang had put “a whole range of things in place” to promote teamwork, including opening an account at a restaurant at Double Bay that could be used by other junior staff in the unit to take patients and families to make discussion and counselloring less formal.

“So if anybody had a patient’s family or relatives that they wanted to talk to they could give them a meal and talk to them and Victor would always pick up the bill. It was only a little thing, but it made things move much more smoothly.

“Years later, after I left there I had to apply the same sort of principles. I am now in a rather large private company that provides diagnostic services for a whole bunch of different, mainly private, hospitals. I am the director of the tissue pathology department, which has about 40 pathologists working at different places around Sydney. And it’s literally like herding cats as they say.

“Doctors, I think, are all rugged individualists and they are all trained in medical schools to think for themselves.

“Getting that teamwork together and getting those people to work together is a really important thing. It makes a huge difference to lots of people’s lives.”

Professor Delprado said that it was important to make friends and connections with people partly because networks are very important in developing a career.

“What I found was that along the way I made some friends and connections with people and those people were valuable to me,” he said. “Part of working in a team is making connections, developing networks, developing buddy relationships.

“You guys are really lucky to be here in this situation (at Warrane College) where you can do that now, because you really don’t know how it is going to work out in the end.

“You are really lucky here that you have got lots of people around you to talk to, you have got speakers like myself to come to talk to you and they will give you advice about career paths . . . Take that information and build it into the belief structures and moral structures that you will take up in life and find your own path.”

Professor Delprado said he spent 50 per cent of his time looking down a microscope, but the other 50 percent he spent getting out and meeting people - both other doctors and patients - and trying to make a difference.

During a question-and-answer session he spoke about the way that attitudes towards prostate cancer were changing in the medical profession. He said that it used to be largely ignored because it was thought to be something that afflicted old men. But it was now recognised that it affected many men in their 40s and 50s and greater effort was being made to detect it early.

Asked for his views on mentoring younger doctors, he said he felt, as somebody who had achieved things thanks to the efforts of others, that it was important to try to encourage younger doctors and to try to help them grow.

“We have had several pathologists who have come into the practice who I have guided into a particular direction and that has made a big difference,” he said. “It’s about networks, it’s about connectivity. If you want to be a rugged individual and treat everybody else badly, then you will find that at the end of the day, people will treat you badly. But if you try to help people then you will find that out of nowhere things will come up and that things will happen that are going to help you in your career.

“It’s only when you have a global approach to life, a global approach to people, that that sort of thing happens. It’s important.”

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