Phil Robinson: Rheumatologist, colleague, huntsman spider rescuer


A mentor who created a platform for ‘good people to do great things’

David Liew, MBBS, PhD, consultant rheumatologist and clinical pharmacologist at Austin Health in Melbourne, marveled at Robinson’s ability to “distill things simply and cleanly, with clarity but without losing detail.” Liew, who collaborated with Robinson throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, likens the experience to “jamming with [jazz musician John] Coltrane.”

“What I think was particularly remarkable was the capacity to not only have those thoughts himself, but to facilitate others to have that springboard,” said Liew, who added that Robinson “took enormous pleasure in facilitating others’ success.”

“I think the greatest joy he drew out of the COVID-19 Global Rheumatology Alliance, apart from facing up to the challenge that needed to be faced, was creating a platform for good people to do great things,” said Liew, who recalled one situation where Robinson gently challenged him. Looking back now, Liew can “now see he very clearly was laying me up, giving me the best chance to shine.”

He describes Robinson as “a deep soul who loved his wife and two sons enormously” and “a whiskey aficionado.” “[Whiskey] suited his contemplative style,” Liew recalled. “Some of my fondest conversations with him were over a whiskey, either in person or virtually, pondering the ‘big issues.’”

A ‘friend and a colleague and so much more’

Claire Barrett, MBBS, president of the Australian Rheumatology Association, described Robinson as a “friend and a colleague and so much more. ... [He was] someone who I worked, laughed, ate, drank, danced, and had fun with,” she told this news organization. They served together as volunteers for the Australian Rheumatology Association and its Queensland branch, as well as Arthritis Queensland; they were also colleagues at Metro North Hospital and Health Service in Brisbane, Queensland.

Robinson was her “go to” for insightful comment on a variety of topics, she said. That could be advice on managing a patient with difficult gout, challenging spondyloarthritis, or the best treatment for a patient with COVID-19.

“[Phil] was a friend I could ask about anything, knowing I would not be judged,” Barrett said. “His kids and our grandkids are similar ages, so we would swap stories and photos and laugh about how cute/funny/cuddly/busy/etc. they were. My heart is broken he won’t get the chance to enjoy their future and the excitement of having Phil continuing to be such an active dad.”

Tanner, Robinson’s wife, said, “he loved everything.” That included the academic side of medicine, and working out what was wrong with his patients and helping them get better. “He was dedicated to this,” she added.

“He also loved the camaraderie of the job – all the people he met and interacted with. [Phil] loved sharing his ideas for research and also discussing complex patients with colleagues. He was driven by finding the answers to problems and doing this as part of a team of researchers/clinicians. He wasn’t interested in personal success.”

Robinson received his medical degree from Otago Medical School in Dunedin, New Zealand, according to the University of Queensland. His specialty training in general and acute care medicine and rheumatology was completed in Wellington, New Zealand, and Dunedin. Robinson also achieved a PhD in human genetics at the University of Queensland Diamantina Institute and had a postdoctoral fellowship at the Queensland Brain Institute at the University of Queensland.

Before his death, he worked at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital in Herston, Queensland, and at St. Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital in Spring Hill in Brisbane.

A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.


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