Wilkinson, James Leonard

  • Prof James L Wilkinson


    MBChB (Birmingham), FRCP (London), FRACP, FACC, FRCPCH, FCSANZ

    The beginnings?

    James was born in 1943 in Birmingham, during the war years. He was known through his early years and as a medical student as “Jimmy”, but subsequently as “Jim”.

    He comes from a “medical family” with both his parents having been doctors, who had studied at the Birmingham Medical School, as also did an older half brother. When he was seven his father died and he was subsequently sent away to boarding school for 4 1/2  years (May 1952 – December 1956). In 1952 the family moved to Bristol where he attended secondary school from 1957 to 1961, at Clifton College.

    After completing his school education he returned to Birmingham to study medicine. He graduated in 1966 and then trained as a paediatrician and cardiologist being appointed to a consultant position in Liverpool in 1975. His research interests then and later involved a wide range of issues including the morphology of congenital heart defects, in which he collaborated closely with Professor Robert Anderson in London, epidemiology of cardiac abnormalities, fetal echocardiography, interventional procedures and numerous studies of the outcomes of cardiac surgery.

    Achievements in Liverpool

    He became a prominent member of the Liverpool medical community and was chairman of the paediatric executive committee, treasurer of the Liverpool Medical Institution and Director of the Paediatric Cardiac Unit in Liverpool, before being offered the position of Director of Cardiology at The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne in 1987, taking up this position early in 1988.

    Director of Cardiology at Royal Children's Hospital

    Over the next few years he oversaw the establishment of the first paediatric heart transplant program in Australia, the development of an active academic department with a strong fellowship training program and the initiation of a number of interventional procedures. He became a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology (FACC).

    He mentored many paediatric cardiac interventionists and proctored the commencement of such procedures as device closure of atrial septal defects in paediatric and adult catheter laboratories all over Australia and in many South East Asian centres. He served as a member of Council of the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand for a number of years and was the paediatric representative on the cardiology training committee of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

    He was the director of cardiology, at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, until 2001 when he handed over the role to a colleague whom he had trained in the 1990s. Soon afterwards he took on another role as chairman of the organising committee for the 5th World Congress of Paediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery which was to take place in Cairns, Queensland, in June 2009.

    Subsequent Career   

    Having stepped back from running the department he took on the role of chairman of medical staff for the hospital. In this position he oversaw many changes, including the approval of funding for a new hospital and agreement to the siting of the new building.

    He was appointed a Professorial Fellow, in the department of Paediatrics, in 2005 and he spent most of the next four years on preparations for the World Congress in 2009. After that meeting had finished, in June 2009, he had expected to retire being then past 65 years old. However he was invited to continue working part-time, doing outpatient work and teaching of medical students and postgraduates, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Over the following two years he watched the progress of the building of the new hospital and in November 2011 the hospital moved into its new buildings, which had been officially opened a few weeks earlier by Her Majesty the Queen.


    He is a recipient of the Elizabeth Turner Medal – an award given by senior medical staff “To acknowledge excellence in clinical care provided by a member of the Senior Medical/Dental Staff of the RCH over an extended period of time.”

    Post Retirement   

    He continued in a part time position, in the new hospital, for another year, finishing in 2012. 

    Since relinquishing that position, he has maintained an active role in post graduate teaching of residents, registrars and fellows and assists with outpatient work on an occasional basis, to provide cover when other members of the team are away unexpectedly or on long service or sabbatical leave and their clinics cannot be covered by regular staff.


    He is married to Helen, a Sydneysider whom he met in the UK in 1971, herself an operating theatre nurse. She has worked at The Royal Melbourne Hospital and at several private hospitals, mainly in the area of adult cardiac surgery. They have four sons one of whom is a paediatrician and ethicist, who trained at Royal Children's Hospital and is now working in Oxford where he has recently become Professor of Medical Ethics. Another son is an orthopaedic surgeon in Queensland and a third is a veterinary surgeon. Their youngest son is a career diplomat, currently on an overseas posting.