Abe Dorovitch: scholar, teacher and gentleman

Abe Dorovitch: scholar, teacher and gentleman

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During his second year, back in Melbourne, he met Vera, a Czech emigre who had survived the Holocaust and recently arrived in Australia. They became engaged on the day he graduated in 1952.

Abe began consultant medical practice as a physician in general medicine but in 1959 he left the public hospital system to pursue a career in pathology initially as a partner in a small private practice.

In 1967, he spent a year in London with his young family, obtaining several postgraduate pathology qualifications as well as admission into the Royal College of Physicians. In 1970, Abe established his own solo private practice, employing 18 scientific, nursing and administrative staff and working out of a small laboratory built in an old converted house in Camberwell Junction.

Over the next few years the practice grew steadily, amalgamating with Sacred Heart Pathology in 1989. By the time Dorevitch Pathology was sold to Mayne Health – a public, listed company – in 1996, it had grown to become an integrated system of nine state of-the art laboratories located across metropolitan Melbourne, country Victoria and southern NSW, with 46 collection centres and a staff of more than 800, including 23 pathologists.

Under Abe’s leadership, Dorevitch Pathology became not only one of Victoria’s largest private pathology providers, but was also widely regarded as the best, due to its focus on quality assurance, excellence in clinical service provision and developing and maintaining close relationships with its referring doctors and hospitals.

Abe lived his professional life by his oft quoted dictum of “pursue excellence and success will follow”.

He was quick to adopt new technology and innovate in all areas of service provision, offering a progressively wider range of services both within and outside the health care system. Many of these were provided pro bono, in keeping with his core value of giving to the community. For example, apart from providing free pathology services to refugees, Abe never charged those identified by their referring doctors as being of limited financial means, an act that was particularly significant before the introduction of Medicare rebates.

The practice also provided pathology services for clinical drug trials, the Australian Olympic Federation and Healesville Sanctuary, with which it collaborated to establish blood test reference ranges for various indigenous Australian mammals that were sent to zoos around the world.

Abe ensured that his medical practice had a strong focus on scholarship. He prioritised scarce physical space in the laboratory for the establishment of a medical library employing a full-time librarian to service the needs of staff and referring doctors – unheard of in private practice. He also regularly wrote a Dorevitch Pathology professional newsletter that was distributed to referring doctors and subsequently, due to its widely recognised quality, reprinted in the Australian Family Physician, a journal distributed to all Australian general practitioners.

Abe was also a committed and energetic teacher. For more than 25 years he was personally involved in teaching skin histopathology – a sub-specialist interest for which he developed an internationally acclaimed reputation – initially to trainee dermatologists and later to pathology and plastic surgery trainees as well. Such was the quality of his teaching, that Dorevitch Pathology became an accredited training site for pathology registrars – again something totally unheard of outside the public hospital system.

Abe was widely regarded as a modest, humble and self-effacing leader. It gave him immense satisfaction that he was able to provide employment for so many people – the overwhelming majority of whom he knew by name.

For example, when one of the smaller satellite centres was forced to close, rather than retrenching the 19 affected staff Abe chose to redeploy them elsewhere in a supernumerary capacity.

Of his many academic qualifications, professional memberships and awards, the one he was the proudest of was a small plaque acknowledging Dorevitch Pathology as a compassionate employer. He felt that this was recognition of his philosophy that staff welfare, happiness and job security were the key measures of organisational success rather than profit, customer or shareholder satisfaction.

He always maintained that if the focus was primarily on the staff, then what flowed on from that in terms of morale, esprit de corps and willingness to work together to achieve practice goals would be assured. Many of his former staff have noted how they treasured their working days at Dorevitch Pathology not just because of Abe’s intellectual rigour and pursuit of professional excellence in servicing the needs of his patients and doctors, or his desire to support teaching and research activities, but because he was widely seen as a man of moral integrity, kindness, decency and humanity who treated all of his staff accordingly, regardless of their roles within the organisation.

It is notable that when the practice ultimately became too large for him to manage, Abe sold it to the third-highest bidder because he felt that they would be most likely to maintain his business philosophy and work standards.

After the sale of Dorevitch Pathology, Abe continued working for another 20 years focusing his attention on what he loved doing best ­– peering down a microscope at skin pathology slides and teaching medical students and post graduate trainees. As he gradually cut down his working hours, he spent increasing amounts of leisure time devoted to his growing family and other interests including travelling, reading and writing poetry, listening to and playing classical music.

Abe was widely regarded as the epitome of a true scholar, teacher and gentleman and a man of great humility with an enormous heart – a heart that ironically and without warning, ultimately let him down.

He is survived by Vera – his wife of more than 66 years, his three children – Michael, Steven and Katy, 10 grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Michael, Steven and Katy contributed to the writing of this tribute.

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