Dr Mary Heseltine, MBBS

Mary-HeseltineBallarat C.E.G.G.S. 1921 – 1927

  • MBBS (University of Melbourne)
  • Women’s Cancer Screening Pioneer
  • Deceased 2002

Dr Mary Heseltine was a pioneer in the use of the Papanicolaou test, or Pap smear, used to detect premalignant and malignant cervical cancers. She was a keen and articulate advocate of cervical screening which has reduced greatly the number of deaths from carcinoma.

Mary Heseltine was educated at the Church of England Girls’ Grammar School, Ballarat, (formerly, and subsequently, known as Queen’s) from 1921 to 1927. She was a Prefect and Tennis Captain in 1927.

In 1929, she enrolled in Medicine at the University of Melbourne and was a resident of Janet Clarke Hall, where she was Senior Student in 1932. After graduating MBBS in 1934, she became a resident medical officer at Royal Melbourne Hospital. She moved to Sydney in 1937 to the Royal Hospital for Women.

In 1943 she became a staff specialist pathologist at King George V Hospital. In 1955, she travelled to Cornell University Medical School, USA. Mary Heseltine was one of the first Australian doctors to study exfoliative cytology with Dr George N. Papanicolaou at Cornell. In 1956 she established, at King George V Hospital, the first gynaecological cytology unit in Australia and there trained the first New South Wales cytotechnologists. She retired in January, 1975, from King George V Hospital. She was made a Consultant at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 1975 and was a staff specialist pathologist at St Margaret’s Hospital, Darlinghurst from 1976 to 1982.

At work, Mary was keen to employ people with disabilities. For some years she had an excellent secretary with very poor vision, one of the young women she trained in cytotechnology was in a wheelchair and had severe hand deformities, another was deaf.

In her private life, she developed a passion for camellias, petit-point embroidery and the NSW Art Gallery, where she was an enthusiastic volunteer guide and conducted tours until 1993. She left her considerable estate to the Gallery.

Includes information drawn from The Royal Australasian College of Physicians Web Site by T Jelihovsky, the Obituary by Betty Heydon, Sydney Morning Herald, and Ballarat Grammar’s Archival Collection.