Westmead adolescent medicine celebrates 40 years young

Westmead Adolescent Ward staff specialist Prof Simon Clarke, medical officer Dr Mushira Mokhtar, clinical nurse consultant Gail Anderson, staff specialist Dr Michael Kohn, nursing unit manager Patricia Walsh and social worker Heejin Kim.

It seems fitting the man who opened the unit also cut the birthday cake 40 years on.

Professor Simon Clarke unveiled Australia’s first adolescent ward at Westmead Hospital in August 1980. Four decades later, he’s still playing a leading role.

Reflecting on a different time, Prof Clarke sat down with clinical nurse consultant Gail Anderson before the official function to mark the Department of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine (AYAM) milestone.

“Forty years ago they called it the general practice in the west,” he said. “Well, have a look at the general practice now – it’s the biggest hospital and research centre in NSW.

“Starting an adolescent ward was a fabulous adventure.

“We became an expert in the field of anorexia. And because we were a research and teaching hospital, we had to aim to be the best.

“It’s marvellous we’re still doing it 40 years later.”

Prof Simon Clarke and clinical nurse consultant Gail Anderson.

The department provides comprehensive, multi-disciplinary health care for young people aged from 14-25 years (and their families), with chronic medical, developmental and biopsychosocial concerns on an inpatient and outpatient basis.

Prof Clarke said the ward boasted a research centre – the CRASH (Centre for Research into Adolescents’ Health) opened in 2003 – an excellent clinical service and training record.

“We see 60 to 100 inpatients a year and probably three times as many outpatients,” he said.

“We’ve revolutionised the management of eating disorders and kids coming into adolescence with gender dysphoria (identity). Our reputation is renowned – `go to Westmead, they’ve got a plan, you’ll be treated properly’.

“Adolescents and young adults need a comprehensive service whether it be in emergency or the general hospital. They need somebody who takes their education, their vocation, their sexuality into consideration.”

Gail said Westmead’s reputation was without peer and the number of children who had been helped over the years in the wards and outpatient clinics was extraordinary.

“The esteem the department is held in is worldwide; we’re trendsetters and the rest of the world is trying to keep up,” she said.

“We give adolescents a space where they can be understood and where we can have a positive impact on their adult life.”

Some of those young patients joined celebrations later that day as current head of AYAM, Professor Michael Kohn, welcomed them along with staff, nurses, doctors and former colleagues in the Ward A4C multi-purpose room filled with chocolates, cakes and metre-high “4-0” balloons.

To respect COVID distancing, many well-wishers and guests joined the 40th birthday party via video link, including guest speakers Westmead Hospital general manager Rebecca Tyson, head of adolescent medicine at the Sydney Children’s Hospital Network Sue Towns and one of the doctors skilled by AYAM training in 2007, Dr Jane Ho.

Other guests and notable staff included clinical psychologist Dr Christine Wearne, consultants Ritu Datta, Lin Gomes and Basiliki Lampropoulos, social worker Heejin Kim, medical registrar Dr Mushira Che Mokhtar and administrative officer Nancy Tom.

Opening the tributes on-line, Rebecca paid thanks to the various teams over the years, describing the ward as “a world-leading unit for eating disorders, developmental disorders and chronic illness”.

“There have been so many in the unit who have continued to enhance the wellbeing of young people in the community, western Sydney, across Australia, New Zealand and Asia,” she said.

“Michael (Kohn) has continued the work of Professor Clarke in ensuring Westmead AYAM service continues to be patient-centred, holding those strong values of inclusiveness, caring and being a place of excellence.

“All the very best for your 40th because this service is absolutely amazing.”

In reply, Prof Kohn underlined the pride of the unit’s work to date and its commitment to ensure the legacy is never lost.

“This is about partnerships, collaboration and constant innovation and renewal,” he told guests.

“So we’re not 40 years old, we’re 40 years young.”