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The Law and Politics of Registering Doctors: Lessons from New South Wales, 1937–42


Gabrielle Wolf

Doctors who fled from Nazi-occupied and dominated Europe sought to pursue their profession wherever they could. Those who arrived in Australia confronted substantial impediments to doing so. In New South Wales (‘NSW’), doctors who represented, registered and educated the medical profession and Members of Parliament attempted to prevent ‘refugee doctors’, as they were described, from practising medicine. Due largely to protectionism and prejudice, many refugee doctors were denied registration to practise medicine irrespective of their qualifications, skills and experience, and despite the low number of refugee doctors who settled in NSW. This article focuses on the law and politics of registering the medical profession. It analyses the treatment of refugee doctors who sought to practise medicine in NSW between 1937 and 1942, and then reflects on the contemporary relevance of this episode in Australia’s history of medical regulation. The article discusses cautionary lessons we might learn from the past so that capable overseas-trained doctors to whom Australia grants refuge are permitted to practise their profession and provide valuable medical services to the community. This article also considers whether changes to the law since that time might constitute some safeguard against repetition of past discrimination.

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(2020) 43(4) UNSWLJ 1521: