In spite of intense financial challenges, Adam and Maria Barnard ensured that their sons were well educated. Chris Barnard studied at the University of Cape Town Medical School where he graduated as a doctor with an MBChB degree in 1946.

After completing his internship at Groote Schuur Hospital, Barnard began his professional career as a GP in the small town of Ceres, a Cape fruit farming region named after the goddess of agriculture. On the recommendation of Erhardt Joubert, Barnard was invited to locum in the practice of Dr. O’Malley (who would shortly be paying his family in Ireland an extended visit) where Joubert had already been practicing for some three months.

Ceres was a good place for the young Dr. Barnard to start his medical career. He and Joubert had much in common: they had been in the same class at university and, in many respects, were cut from the same cloth. Both came from tough Afrikaner stock, both grew up in a rural environment and both followed a punishing work ethic. Both were handsome, ambitious, and driven. Above all, both men were outstanding doctors. Barnard described Joubert as “the best General Practitioner I have ever known,” and Joubert referred to Barnard as “an original thinker who possessed almost reckless courage.”

chris, marius en mc botha

The two young doctors swiftly made their mark in Ceres as the young guns who were the first to operate, and with open ether anaesthetic, no less. By the time O’Malley came back from Ireland, the practice had grown so vigorously that it could accommodate all three doctors. O’Malley did not, however, get along with Barnard and soon asked him to leave. This snub riled Barnard and together with his desire to save patients beyond the current constraints of medical research, fuelled his ambition to enter the realm of surgery.

The friendship between Barnard and Joubert survived the Ceres snub and on his return from specializing in cardiac surgery at the University of Minnesota in 1958, Barnard invited Joubert to join his heart team at Groote Schuur Hospital. Joubert declined due to his love of rural life and his thriving Ceres practice. He also had reservations about Barnard’s notorious temperament…