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Volunteer your time - Hoffman

- Kemantha Govender

Dr Julien Hoffman receives honorary doctorate for his research, his clinical work and his teaching.

Serious diseases in South Africa can be avoided if medical school graduates consider helping their less fortunate compatriots by volunteering in local communities, says Dr Julien Hoffman.

Hoffman who spent almost his entire lifetime fostering the advancement of paediatric cardiology and cardiac surgery made that plea to Wits graduates after receiving his honorary doctorate this week.

The paediatric cardiologist said that even though there is no longer any legal discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity, it still exists in the form of economics.

“There are millions of people out there without housing or jobs perhaps without hope. I would like the graduating class who are an elite group to consider spending some of their time and money in trying to help their poorer compatriots.

“Lots of things can be done. One could consider going into a rural area and teaching for a year or two,” he said.

He said while the South African government has been very generous in setting up rural clinics, there are not enough doctors to work there so it would be important to give the local community basic skills as it is being done in several other countries. Hoffman stressed that developing basic health care skills in the communities at low cost is an extremely useful exercise.

Reaching out 

Hoffman said diseases such as rheumatic fever, which causes serious heart disease, can be avoided with simple interventions.

“Rheumatic fever may end up in surgery and is expensive and not necessarily very effective.  It is caused by streptococcus infections. It will very easy and financially sound to have people who can test people’s sore throats to see if they have streptococcus infections. One could give them one or two doses of penicillin which can prevent rheumatic fever and prevent the heart disease,” said Hoffman.  

Hoffman, a Wits graduate who obtained a Bachelor of Science in 1945, and his Bachelor of Medicine in 1949, said he appreciated Wits for their hands-on approach. He said people who come to Wits are normally ones with the spirit of adventure and a desire to do new things which is not often seen in the older universities.

He started a Fellowship at The Children’s Hospital, Boston. After working as assistant Professor of Paediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, he joined the team in Paediatric Cardiology, Cardiovascular Research Unit, University of California San Francisco, in July 1966, to this day.

This unit, with Hoffman and Professor Abe Rudolph, also a Wits graduate, as co-directors, developed into the leading research unit on cardiovascular disease in children in the United States and, arguably, in the world. Their research range from laboratory studies at a basic science level to research at a clinical level in all aspects of paediatric heart disease.

Hoffman has received numerous honours and awards for his research, his clinical work and his teaching during his career. He has published over 200 papers in peer-reviewed journals, either as principal or co-author, and has contributed 164 chapters in books.

Throughout this time he has maintained strong links with South Africa attending several congresses and giving lectures at Medical Schools, including Wits Medical School. He still remains active and currently holds the position of Emeritus Professor of Paediatrics and Senior Member, Cardiovascular Research Institute, University of California San Francisco.