Dr Frank Harvey and Professor Tom Taylor recognised the importance of developing the field of hand surgery and encouraged the development of the Hand & Microsurgery Unit within the Department of Orthopaedic and Traumatic Surgery at Royal North Shore Hospital, which was formed in 1986 and staffed by Consultants from both the Orthopaedic Department and Department of Plastic Surgery.
In 1993, Professor Michael Tonkin played an integral role in forming an independent Department of Hand Surgery and Peripheral Nerve Surgery at Royal North Shore Hospital. This recognised that hand surgery was an interface sub-speciality requiring not only expertise taught within plastic surgery and orthopaedic surgery training programmes but also training in specific vascular surgery and neurosurgery techniques.
Professor Tonkin was appointed Head of Department from 1993 to 2013. He also held the position of Chair in Hand Surgery at the University of Sydney, the first full Professorial Chair in Hand Surgery in Australia.
The Department has now grown to employ six Visiting Medical Officers who are specialists in hand surgery, from orthopaedic, plastic and general surgery backgrounds.
The majority of clinical services are performed at Royal North Shore Hospital. However, there is a close association with North Shore Private Hospital, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Mona Vale and Ryde hospitals within the Northern Sydney Local Health District and Dubbo Base Hospital, with Royal North Shore Hospital Consultants providing clinical services and teaching sessions to those institutions. These clinical services cover the full gamut of hand and upper limb surgery, including clinics in congenital hand surgery, spinal and brain injury services, cerebral palsy clinics, brachial plexus and peripheral nerve surgery, complex wrist surgery and reconstruction of the arthritic hand.
The Department played a major role in the organisation and presentation of the triennial International Federation of Societies for Surgery of the Hand (IFSSH) Congress, hosted by the Australian Hand Surgery Society in Sydney, 2007. Professor Michael Tonkin was elected President of the IFSSH for the 2013-2016 term, after being actively involved in the Federation's Executive Committee since 2004. He has also served as President of the Asian Pacific Federation of Societies for Surgery of the Hand (2002-2004) and President of the Australian Hand Surgery Society (2006-2008). He has delivered numerous lectures internationally and co-developed the Oberg Manske Tonkin (OMT) Classification of Congenital Anomalies of the Hand and Upper Limb which was adopted as the IFSSH-preferred classifications system in 2014. Professor Tonkin was also instrumental in establishing the Australian Hand Surgery Society's Post Fellowship Education Training (PFET) programme to formalise the sub-specialty hand surgery training in Australia. The RNSH Hand Surgery department is an accredited PFET training centre.
Drs Tony Beard, Richard Lawson and Mark Hile have also been elected to Executive Committee positions within the Australian Hand Surgery Society (AHSS) and the New South Wales Hand Surgery Association. As well as convening the annual AHSS Annual Scientific Meeting in 2010 (Canberra) and the AHSS Registrars Course in 2012 (Sydney), Dr Tony Beard recently convened the 2016 Australian Hand Surgery Society - American Society for Surgery of the Hand Congress in Sydney.
The department's Consultant Hand Surgeons actively participate in hand surgery missions to deliver surgical services to developing areas and provide an educational programme to these local surgeons. These include annual visits to Vietnam and Cambodia under Rotary and Orthopaedic Outreach programmes respectively. Regular courses are also organised at Royal North Shore Hospital by the department with additional invited lecturers, including the Australian Hand Surgery Society Hand and Forearm Flap Course.
The Department provides training positions for registrars of the Australian Orthopaedic Association and Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons, who join the Department for six monthly rotations. Fellowships in Hand Surgery began in 1987 with Australian and international fellows undertaking six or twelve month fellowships in the department. In the past 30 years, the department has received fellows from the UK, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and the USA, as well as from a large number of European and Asian nations. The department regularly hosts Visiting Professors and welcomes observers from hand surgery units nationally and internationally.
The Department of Hand Surgery and Peripheral Nerve Surgery at the Royal North Shore Hospital is one of three independent hand surgery departments within New South Wales and is at the forefront of training and teaching future hand surgeons. It works closely with the RNSH Department of Orthopaedic and Traumatic Surgery, Department of Rheumatology and Department of Plastic Surgery and is recognised internationally as a centre of excellence in the field of hand surgery.