Ross Barnetson trained in Medicine at Edinburgh University between 1958 and 1964. For three years during medical training he served in the Territorial Army in the Airborne Division of the British Army. He also performed electives in Israel and the USA.
After graduating in Edinburgh he joined the regular Army, and after training in Tropical Medicine was stationed in Cyprus for 2 years, where he worked at the British Military Hospital. Dhekelia and was a member of the Near East Paraschute Force providing medical cover for the force. He was then stationed in West Malaysia and Singapore working in two Military Hospitals in Tropical Medicine. He retired from the army after 5 years.
On leaving the army in 1970 he returned to Edinburgh and was appointed as a Registrar in Dermatology in the Professorial Unit at the Royal Infirmary. He became a member of the Royal College of Physicians (MRCP) by examination and continued as a Registrar in Dermatology for 3 years writing papers on a number of skin diseases such as dermatitis herpetiformis (a form of coeliac disease) and fungal infections.
In 1974, he was appointed as a MRC Clinical Research Physician in Addis Ababa, Ethipoia working in the Armauer Hansen Research Institute. He performed a study in reversal reactions in leprosy and wrote his MD thesis on this subject. He wrote 10 papers on leprosy, and leishmaniasis, including one in NATURE.
In 1976, he returned to Edinburgh University as a lecturer in Dermatology, and continued as such till 1981: this included a six month period in Immunology working with Prof Ivan Roitt FRS. As a lecturer he completed 30 papers on skin diseases. He was then appointed as a consultant and senior lecturer at the Royal Infirmary Edinburgh and Edinburgh University, where he continued until being appointed to the Chair of Dermatology at the University of Sydney in 1988. During this time he wrote 30 further scientific papers on skin diseases and 15 Chapters in Books, both dermatological and immunological.
On taking up the Chair of Dermatology at the University of Sydney in 1988 which was the first Chair of Dermatology in Australia, he established laboratory research in Dermatology in Australia. As well as building up the Clinical Department at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, two large laboratories were commandeered and created into modern immunological laboratories under the supervision of Professor Gary Halliday, immunologist and world authority on skin cancer, and its prevention. Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world, and 400,000 new cases present each year, so it is huge clinical problem in Australia, worthy of major research. Probably the most important observation was that reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the USA which showed that UVA is as important as UVB in the development of skin cancer and thus sunscreens are needed to protect effectively against UVA as well as UVB.
During this time as Professor of Dermatology at the University of Sydney, he was also part of the Pacific Islands Project, run by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. He was responsible for the Dermatology arm of the project, which ran from 1996 – 2003. He himself paid visits to Samoa, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tuvalu, seeing patients with skin diseases, and teaching the local medical and nursing staff. He received a commendation for this from the Australian Government.
During his 18 years as Professor of Dermatology he was co-author of 100 papers, and by the time he retired he had 30 full time research staff working with him, by far the largest Department of Dermatology, in Australia. He handed over the Chair of Dermatology to Professor Wolfgang Weninger in 2007 who had trained in Vienna as a dermatologist and then worked at Harvard and the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia. The Department now has 45 full time research personnel and is well recognized around the world for the importance of its research.
It has published over 400 scientific papers and attracted more than $20 million in grants. It is by far the largest Department of Dermatology in Australia.