From shy schoolboy, to international action man in last year’s Thai cave rescue, Flinders University graduate Dr Richard Harris SC OAM has returned to reality at his high-pressured job as a specialist anaesthetic expert.
Facing life or death is an every-day occurrence for Dr Harris (BMBS ’89) who works at Specialist Anaesthetic Services, as a Retrieval Consultant for MedSTAR and as medical lead for the SA Urban Search and Rescue Task Force. These roles follow years of experience in critical care and retrieval services in the UK, New Zealand and the Pacific.
Since his highly celebrated role in rescuing a boys’ soccer team and their coach from a flooded cave in Thailand last year, Dr Harris has received joint OAMs, Stars of Courage and the coveted Australian of the Year with his dive partner Dr Craig Challen.
In 1982 Dr Harris started his Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at Flinders University, where he met people from different walks of life and discovered new ways of thinking.
‘I went to a private boys’ school in Adelaide and on arrival at Flinders I soon realised what a sheltered life I had lived,’ says Dr Richard Harris. ‘Not only was the University modern and progressive, but at such an inclusive campus I soon experienced different viewpoints, cultures and lifestyles.’
Dr Harris reflects that a major highlight of the Flinders medical degree was having the final exams at the end of the fifth year, followed by a final-year working as a student ‘intern’ at the Repat Hospital, ahead of the real Intern year that was to follow.
‘I was so grateful on my first night shifts as an intern when I realised I was already prepared to insert drips and catheters in my patients without supervision – life-saving skills for a young doctor.’
As well as expertise in anaesthesia for breast and endocrine surgery, ENT and acoustic neuroma surgery, upper GI surgery and endoscopy, Dr Harris’ love of adventure has combined medical practice with a life-long interest in diving.
His 30-year passion for exploring underwater caves has led him to work as a cameraman, diver and medical support on National Geographic documentaries and feature films.
Dr Richard Harris SC OAM was awarded a 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award for outstanding service to the international community through his specialist response role during the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue in Thailand.