Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW
Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW

Melanoma Institute boss on ‘Surgery and Serendipity’

John Thompson shares his experiences of accepting the right opportunities

“Avoid planning your future careers in too much detail, but rather be prepared to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.”

That was the advice that Warrane residents received at formal dinner on Wednesday, April 6, from one of the country’s most senior surgeons, the Executive Director of the Melanoma Institute Australia, Professor John Thompson.

Professor Thompson is not only a leading authority on melanoma; he was also a pioneer of organ transplants.

He said: “Most of what happens in the professional careers of most people is not the result of fastidious planning, but of chance.”

He offered examples from his own career, as well as from his father’s, his son’s and a friend’s careers. His father, he said, had come to Australia from England by chance when he applied for a position as a doctor on Norfolk Island, never thinking he would get the job.

During his own career, one of the unforeseen opportunities involved working on roads in Canberra. He had worked in a team of six men filling in holes and it turned out to be one of the best jobs he ever had.

Later, after he started working in medicine, he was given a chance to spend a year at Oxford University, which turned into four very stimulating years.

“It was a transforming period in may life,” he said. “Oxford is the most amazing place with the most amazing people. If you ever get the chance to go there, take it.”

Professor Johnson said he had also moved into melanoma surgery and research by chance. When the opportunity first arose he remembers thinking that it would be the “most boring thing in the world”. But instead, it had turned out to be fascinating, moving him to publish an astonishing 450 peer-reviewed research papers.

“If you are committed to what you are doing, I firmly believe that you will succeed at whatever you do,” he said.

[Warrane College offers more than just accommodation to students at UNSW: Details of other guest speakers are available here]