In 1960 a young schoolmaster, then teaching biology and chemistry in a secondary school in rural Victoria, decided to become a country doctor. He was part of the first intake of students into the Medical School of the newly established Monash University, and at the end of his six-year undergraduate medical course and subsequent intern and resident appointments his resolve to practise community medicine remained firm. After more than a decade in country practice with his life partner, Dr Jill Rosenblatt, during which he meticulously documented the cases he treated, in 1977 John Murtagh took up an academic position in the new Department of General Practice at Monash University. He subsequently moved through the ranks of Senior Lecturer, Associate Professor and Professor, now enjoying the title of Emeritus Professor.
Through his writing, pedagogy and research, John Murtagh became a national and international authority on the content and teaching of primary care medicine. It was during his tenure as Medical Editor of Australian Family Physician from 1986 to 1995 that the journal became the most widely read medical journal in Australia.
This textbook provides a distillate of the vast experience gained by a once rural doctor, whose career has embraced teaching; whose abiding interest is in ensuring that disease, whether minor or life-threatening, is recognised quickly; and whose concern is that strategies to match each contingency are well understood.
The first edition of this book, published in 1994, achieved remarkable success on both the national and international scene. The second and third editions built on this initial success and the book has become known as the ‘bible of general practice’ in Australia. In addition to being widely used by practising doctors, it has become a popular and standard textbook in several medical schools and also in the teaching institutions for alternative health practitioners, such as chiropractic, naturopathy and osteopathy. In particular, medical undergraduates and graduates struggling to learn English have found the book relatively comprehensible. The fourth and fifth editions were updated and expanded, retaining the successful, user-friendly format, including clinical photography and illustrations in colour. Dr Jill Rosenblatt joined John in authoring and editing the fifth, sixth and seventh editions. Now, almost 25 years since the launch of the first edition, the seventh edition introduces two new author/editors in Dr Justin Coleman and Dr Clare Murtagh.
Having known John and worked with him for more than three decades, I feel privileged to write this foreword to the seventh edition, adding to earlier forewords by the late Professor Schofield. During this 25-year period I have watched each edition blossom, only to be superseded by a bigger and better replacement. John Murtagh has become a legend nationally and internationally, and in a 2012 Medical Observer survey he was voted the most revered Australian doctor, ahead of Fred Hollows and Victor Chang. Most recently, in 2018 John was awarded the Australian Medical Association’s highest honour, the AMA Gold Medal for his ‘contribution to medicine and general practice as a doctor and educator’.
This edition retains the time-honoured framework that has made it the seminal text for GPs, GP registrars and students of general practice worldwide. It is to general practice what ‘Harrisons’ is to internal medicine.
Although this edition retains the same format, it has a number of significant changes and additions, including a strong emphasis on the diagnostic approach to the disturbed patient, as well as patients presenting with neurological symptoms and signs. Reflecting John’s lifelong commitment to medical education, he has included more visual material, more practical tips for day-to-day clinical practice and importantly, more on therapeutics supported by references to Therapeutic Guidelines.
The expanded volume has necessitated a significant increase in references to original sources to substantiate the evidence base within this text. As expected in contemporary texts, there is also an abundance of online resources.
John Murtagh’s works, including this text, have been translated into Italian by McGraw-Hill Libri Italia s.r.l., Portuguese by McGraw-Hill Nova Iorque and Spanish by McGraw-Hill Interamericana Mexico and also into Chinese, Greek, Polish and Russian. In 2009 John Murtagh’s General Practice was chosen by the Chinese Ministry of Health as the textbook to aid the development of general practice in China. Now, 25 years since its beginning, the text is available in 13 languages, most recently adding Farsi and Turkish translations. A truly remarkable achievement.
OBE, MD, ChB(NZ), DPhil(Oxon), FRACP, FRACMA, FAMA
Emeritus Professor of Anatomy
Monash University, 1977–88
Leon Piterman AM (Foreword to the sixth and seventh editions)
MBBS, MD, MMed, MEdSt, FRCP(Edin), FRACGP
Professor of General Practice,