Surgeon Elizabeth Gordon

Surgeon Elizabeth Gordon

Founder member of the Medical Arm of Amnesty International in 1975

As part of an Australian medical team in Vietnam during the war we treated all people regardless of whether they were North or South. This was a proper hospital at Bien Hoa. You could pick out the Viet Cong by their accent. I treated a man with gunshot wounds to his legs. I fixed him up and the same day he was removed from the hospital, by the Vietnamese police.

“That’s when I became aware of torture.”

In 1975 five of us got together and set up the Medical Group of     Amnesty International.

  Dr Elizabeth Gordon FRCS doesn’t trumpet her achievements. She is a precise woman who sees aesthetics, not just in music and art, but in the elegance and simplicity of the instruments which she uses for surgery.  She loves the precision and delicacy of the instruments.

DR.Dr. Gordon Trustee of the Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture. 1985

One of the original founders of the Medical Group of Amnesty International 1975

“Why do you want to be a surgeon, are you going to be a missionary? “

There was a very anti-women attitude towards women surgeons.  When I went to do a 2 week stint with a surgeon, he asked: “Why do you want to be a surgeon, are you going to be a missionary? ” In Hertfordshire, they would frighten you off, you needed to be fearless.  They would try to intimidate you.

“I decided to become a doctor reading my brother’s Eagle comic.”

There was a description of an appendix operation, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Never wavered.  One of first women to graduate as a surgeon, she was one of 8 out of 900 in England and Wales.

She is featured on the mural in the lecture theatre of the Hunterian Museum, for the

Dr. Gordon as a student

the mural celebrating surgeons at the Huntlerian Museum, royal

Royal College of Surgeons.

My most important role model would be the first surgeon I worked for, Harding Rains. He was my mentor, sponsor and role model. He judged you on merit and furthering your career was part of his job. He encouraged me to get the Edward Wilson Fellowship to go and study in Australia, at the Alfred Hospital in Victoria to do a year’s research liver function.

“

I was about 10 when I recognized the difference between priests and nuns.”

Women weren’t allowed out in the street; they didn’t have those freedoms. Obviously it was better to be a man. You have power and liberty I suppose.

 

Going to Australia was my most memorable moment.

Growing up and going growing away. Stepped off the plane in the sense that nobody knew me, no background. Harding Rains had suggested I fill in the form and go to the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne to do research on livers and write a thesis. The Edward Wilson Scholarship, he went with Scott to the Antarctic. It was at The Alfred hospital of Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.  I knew I had to do it. The idea of travel was interesting. I made good friends, good friends to this day. Jim and Helen Watts of Fox Creek wines.

 I went to Vietnam with the Australian Government’s surgical team. 

portrait of Dr. Elizabeth Gordon

The scholarship was specifically for a year, later extended to two years as I had the chance to go to Vietnam, during the war.   They provided surgical teams in South Vietnam, 4 teams, one at a time. At the surgery we treated all people who came in regardless of whether they were North or South. This was a proper hospital at Bien Hoa. You could pick out the Viet Cong by their accent. I treated a man with gunshot wounds to his legs. I fixed him up and the same day he was removed from the hospital, by the Vietnamese police.

That’s when I became aware of torture.”

 In 1975 five of us got together and set up the Medical Group of Amnesty International. 

When I returned to England Amnesty was waiting, wanting to set up a medical arm of Amnesty.  Later in 1985 it became independent of Amnesty.  It needed to be, since there were too many countries with torture for Amnesty to be able to fund them all. In 1985 the Medical Group became the Medical foundation for Victims of Torture.

The Amnesty Uganda Report.

Previously Amnesty had sent me to East Africa for a week, with a forensic pathologist from Cardiff. Bernard Knight. Now he is Sir Bernard Knight.  We were being asked to see people who’d escaped from Uganda, their injuries were the basis of the Amnesty Uganda Report. The British supported Idi Amin, graduate of Sandhurst.  Bernard and I both learnt a lot from each other.    There was also a meeting with a Dr from Chile about the perversion of the medical profession in Chile and the misuse of psychiatric treatment in USSR.

  “In 1985 the Medical Group became the Medical Foundation for Victims of torture, now called Freedom From Torture
.”

 I was surprised that an anti-female attitude persisted into 1970s in my profession. When I applied for my consultancy, I was warned, not in an unkindly way, that as that a woman, I was too left wing, and there was a strong Masonic element in the profession. At the interview panel it was all men, not even a female notetaker.

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