John West graduated in medicine from the University of Adelaide in 1951 and became a resident at the Royal Adelaide Hospital the following year. From 1953 to 1960 he served as a post-doctoral fellow and clinical physiologist at Hammersmith Hospital, London, where he worked extensively on pulmonary physiology. John was appointed Professor of Medicine and Physiology at the University of California, San Diego, in 1969.
During 1960 to 1961 West was physiologist on Sir Edmund Hillary’s Silver Hut Expedition to the Himalayas, where several months were spent living at an altitude of 19,000 feet (5800m). West returned to the Himalayas in 1981 as leader of the American Medical Research Expedition to Everest (five members of the group reached the summit) and later published his experiences as Everest-The Testing Place.
Considered a world authority in the field of high altitude medicine, John West has received many honours, culminating in 2001 when he received the distinction of membership of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.