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Born in Melbourne on October 11th, 1948
John was a student at Melbourne Grammar School and then studied medicine at Monash University. He excelled academically early on, earning the Ronald Guy Larkin scholarship and a Commonwealth scholarship. At University he was awarded the Ramsey prize for proficiency in zoology, the David Rosenthal prize for best aggregate mark in second and third year, the Carnation award in neonatal Pediatrics and the Harry Hindlip Green scholarship in medicine.
He undertook his early clinical training at the Alfred Hospital, followed by Paediatric surgical training at Royal Children’s Hospital. Once again he earned several honors including the Gordon Taylor prize for the surgical primary exam in 1974. He was a senior registrar at the RCH from 1978 to 1979.
In the 1970s the surgical staff at the Royal Children’s Hospital included many well-known names. Douglas Stephens moved to Chicago from Melbourne in 1975. Durham Smith popularized the two-stage hypospadias repair and wrote a book on anorectal malformations with Douglas Stephens. Robert Fowler and Douglas Stephens described the two-stage orchidopexy, Justin Kelly is probably best known for his bladder exstrophy repair, Nate Myers is well known for his work on esophageal atresia and Peter Jones edited the first textbook on Pediatric surgery in Australia.
In 1977 John worked as a research fellow at the Royal Children’s Hospital under the supervision of Prof Donald Cheek and Mr. Robert Fowler. He studied compensatory renal growth in a growth hormone deficient mouse model. He also studied the effect on wound healing of licked saliva in mice and published his first article on this subject in Nature. It was during this period that his wife noticed that he was happiest when he was undertaking research and she suggested he do this forever.
After completing his surgical Fellowship, John changed career direction to become a researcher and the family moved to Boston in 1980 to undertake a project on the physiology and biochemistry of Mullerian inhibiting substance under the supervision of Prof Donohoe, the first female professor of Surgery at Harvard University. He was awarded the Uncle Bob’s travelling scholarship from the Royal Children’s Hospital, the Janine H Pullman travelling scholarship and the Applied health sciences fellowship from the National health and Medical Research Council.
Following a clinical year at the Royal hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow in 1983 he returned to Melbourne to continue his research career, earning MDs in the biology of Mullerian inhibiting substance from Melbourne University and 10 years later a second MD for work on a biphasic model of testicular descent from Monash University.
He established the F D Stephens research laboratory in 1984 and that lab now includes 2 scientists, 2 research assistants and 2 to 4 postgraduate surgical research fellows.
John was appointed Professor of Paediatric Surgery at the University of Melbourne and Head of General surgery at RCH in 1993. He and Allan Woodward split from General Surgery and started the Urology Department at RCH in 2006. That department now has 3 Urologists, John Hutson, Mike O'Brien and Yves Heloury.
His current research interests include the role of Mullerian inhibiting substance in genital development and for some years his lab was the only lab measuring MIS levels in Australia
He continues to study testicular descent, including studies of postnatal germ cell regulation, studies of hernia closure and studies of the VATER association using a new animal model.
He has a long-standing interest in normal and abnormal sexual development. He published a book on Disorders of sexual development in 2012. He has also conducted clinical and laboratory studies of constipation and a has patented a transcutaneous electrical stimulation device for the treatment for slow transit constipation.
John excels at breaking down barriers and facilitating cooperation. He facilitated joint consultant appointments between Monash Medical Centre Children's Hospital in the east and the Royal Children's Hospital in the west. These were the first joint positions in 30 years in previously competitive hospitals. They were filled by Nell McMullen and Chris Kimber. He also initiated formal links with Hobart hospital and an honorary appointment for the Hobart surgeon, Ed Fenton at the RCH. He was instrumental in starting the Paediatric Urology Club (our embryonic SPU). The philosophy of the club has been one of inclusion and promoting education. The club has fostered communication and joint learning between pediatric surgeons and urologists with an interest in pediatric urology. The group meets once a year and attendance at the meeting defines membership. The name of the club has since changed to the Society of Paediatric Urology of New Zealand and Australia. John was the founding Chancellor until 2015.
As well as his busy clinical and research career, John has found time for non-medical interests, including being a group leader for 20 years in the Scouts and achieving an order of Merlin in the International Brotherhood of Magicians. In January 2004 and 2007 he was the Medical Director of Jamboree in Adelaide and Elmore, and in 2010 he was the Deputy Medical Director for the Sydney Scout Jamboree, responsible for the medical care of 14000 people.
His dress style is impeccable and his bow ties are legendary. He has 4 children, Kathleen, Andrew, Rowena and Iain and is a devoted husband to his wife Susan.
In 2007 John was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for service to medicine, particularly in the field of paediatric surgery and to the community through the Scouting movement.
His other awards include the Coe medal (PAPS) in 2007, the Sir Dennis Brown medal (BAPS) in 2008 and the RCH Chairman's medal in 2009. John has published over 360 papers, written 120 book chapters and review papers and edited 20 books. He has supervised more than 100 students for higher degrees. His first student, Spencer Beasley, is now Vice President of Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.
In 2016, John was the 32nd recipient of the American Academy of Pediatrics medal in Urology, which is awarded each year to individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to Pediatric urology. The first medal was awarded in 1984 to Harry Spence and the only other Australian to have earned this award is Douglas Stephens, also from Melbourne, who was awarded his medal in 1986.