Dr Betty Marks, Image courtesy of Tweed Daily News

Registrar Dr Nispa Krongkaew pays tribute to her Supervisor, Dr Betty Marks, the North Coast medical legend who retired recently at the age of 90.

This year marked the end of an era for Murwillumbah, and the Northern Rivers, when Dr Betty Marks, the longest serving doctor in town, hung up her stethoscope and celebrated her retirement at the age of 90, after devoting 66 years of her life to patient care. The retirement party, held on 19 July at the Murwillumbah Golf Club, received over 200 attendees.

Dr Betty, as she is affectionately known, is a living legend. After graduating from Sydney University in 1948, Dr Marks (nee McEwan) worked in Sydney for five years before moving to Murwillumbah with her late husband, Dr Jim Marks.

A true general practitioner and family doctor, Dr Betty has treated local patients and families over four generations, delivered over 1,000 babies, given countless anaesthetics, attended all emergencies and performed house calls any time of day or night. Only recently, I had the pleasure of meeting a 97-year old lady - still proud to tell the story 60 years on - who underwent a nephrectomy operation in 1954 performed by Drs Jim and Betty Marks.

Dr Betty practised a mixture of past and present medicine, and held fast to various tried and tested remedies, such as lotio rubra for sloughy wounds or quinine for leg cramps. In her room, Dr Betty had a microscope on her bench – a contraption from perhaps the 1800s with an external light source – that she used to look at white cells in the urine sample indicating infection, a skill long lost in today’s doctors.

By the same token, she kept up with all the latest drugs on the market and knew all the new specialists in town. Right up to her retirement, Dr Betty drove herself to various GP education seminars to collect her CPD points like the rest of us.

As general practice moved towards computer-based notes, Dr Betty was not fazed. She started learning to use the computer in her 80s, and despite her inexperience, she managed the electronic database and typed all her own letters, even though she wouldn’t use backspace!

I was fortunate enough to be one of last few GP registrars to work alongside Dr Betty. While I showed her how to use the printer, she showed me how to be a real doctor. Her concern for others is genuine and profound. No matter how tired she might be, she could always find more of herself to give those in need.

Only a few months before she retired, Dr Betty referred one of her patients for a colonoscopy. As the patient lived alone, Dr Betty decided to look after the patient through the bowel prep overnight in her own home, and drove the patient to hospital the next day. The lines between professional and personal lives were frequently blurred, but Dr Betty was not concerned by such matters – she cared for everyone the same way, whether they be her patient, family, colleague or friend.

Dr Betty’s tireless dedication to the community earned her a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2001 for her service to medicine. Upon retirement, she featured in television news across Australia and front pages of local newspapers. At her retirement party, she was honoured with the NSW Premier’s Award for service to the community, received a congratulatory message from Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and formally being acknowledged in Parliament the following day.

Since her retirement, Dr Betty now has a laptop set up in her home, and for the first time, she used Google on her home computer. What was the first thing she Googled? “Pneumonia”.

Dr Betty is an immense inspiration and a role model to all, and she made me feel proud to be a GP, even if I may never be like her.