General surgeon at Footscray Hospital 1963–1991
Professor Vernon Marshall was one of Footscray’s most influential surgeons. He held the post of Professor of Surgery at Prince Henry’s Hospital for many years while he worked at Footscray.
Professor Marshall and his brothers Bob and Donald were a remarkable trio in Australia’s surgical profession. They were widely known as ‘the Marshall brothers’ because they each had senior roles at the same time at Prince Henry’s, previously one of Melbourne’s leading hospitals.
When Bob was head of the hospital’s gastro-intestinal surgical unit, Vernon was Professor of Surgery and Donald was head of the hospital’s plastics and reconstructive surgery unit. Monash University’s Marshall Prize in Surgical Training commemorates the brothers’ contribution to surgical training and education.
Their sisters also pursued medical and clinical careers. Their sister, Betty was a general practitioner and another sister Gwen was a physiotherapist.
Vernon Marshall was born in 1931.
His father was a postmaster and the Marshall children grew up in Westgarth, in Melbourne’s inner north. The family home was built by Vernon’s father and overlooked the Merri Creek.
The Marshall children used to climb the linden tree in their backyard, scramble across the garage roof and the back fence to launch themselves into the paddocks and bushland along the creek’s banks. “It was a wonderland and we had a Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer lifestyle,” Professor Marshall said.
He was educated at Westgarth Central School and University High School before enrolling in medicine at Melbourne University. He went on to become an expert in renal dialysis and transplantation, helping to pioneer the use of artificial kidneys in Australia.
Dramatic advances in surgical techniques and materials occurred during Professor Marshall’s career at Footscray, the Royal Melbourne and Prince Henry’s. In the era before synthetic materials were invented, surgeons used animal or vegetable based materials such as silk or cat gut to stitch wounds. But the materials were susceptible to being infected by germs and it was not uncommon for post-operative patients to develop an infection at the suture site.
Professor Marshall always kept a sterilised crochet hook in Footscray’s outpatient section and used it to pick the infected stitch out of the suture site. He nominates synthetic materials, the auditing of surgical results and hip, knee and eye lens replacements as some of the most significant advances in the treatment and care of surgical patients.