Ivan McDonald Allen was New Zealand's first neurologist. He was born the eldest of six children of William James Allen, a farmer, and Elizabeth Pollock in Onehunga, Auckland in 1895, received his secondary education at Auckland Grammar School and proceeded then as a national scholar first to university in Auckland then to medical school in the University of Otago. After graduating with an excellent academic record in 1919 Dr Allen stayed in Dunedin as house surgeon, house physician and assistant in the department of pathology until he obtained his MD in 1921. He then entered general practice in the small South Island town of Rangiora and remained there until he went with his wife and family to take up postgraduate study in England in 1927. In London he took his Membership of the Royal College of Physicians and worked as house physician to Dr Worster-Drought at the West End Hospital for Nervous Diseases and then became resident medical officer at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Queen Square. There he was an associate of some of the greats in neurology, Kinnier Wilson, Holmes, Gowers and Walshe; his contemporaries in training included Critchley, Symonds, Robertson, Carmichael and Denny-Brown.
After becoming a classical neurologist in the English tradition Dr Allen returned to New Zealand in 1932 and began a long spell of consultant neurology in Wellington. His principal appointments were to the Wellington Hospital and the Home of Compassion but his opinion was sought in towns far removed from Wellington and he travelled accordingly. He became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1952.
As a person Dr Allen tended to be Olympian, but his systematic observations and meticulous recording made neurology conspicuous during his time. While he was not noted for didactic clarity at the bedside, his thoughts about cases were carefully recorded in letters, reports and frequent publications which were erudite, neurologically catholic and instructive. They affirmed, as he did in the ward, the use of clinical skills but also contained a depth of knowledge and understanding not always evident in his oral teaching. Systematic method, detailed records and copious knowledge made him for many years a unique physician on the New Zealand scene.
As New Zealand's prime consultant neurologist Dr Allen was a foundation Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, ten years a member of the board of censors and two years vice-president for New Zealand. In 1955 he delivered the Montgomery Spencer Memorial Lecture and over the years presented a host of other carefully constructed papers at meetings of the College. He spoke and wrote authoritatively on aspects of cortical function, of epilepsy and of emotional control. He made a major contribution with his review article on occipital lobe neoplasm.
After retiring from hospital work in 1958 Dr Allen remained an honorary consultant for the last few years of his life. During this time he suffered much from a recurrent neoplastic condition but throughout remained composed, courteous and calm.
Dr Allen was singularly fortunate in his marriage to May, daughter of Reverend Andrew and Mary Cameron of Dunedin. He deeply appreciated his home and the affection of his family. Beyond that his passion was thinking and writing about neurology. He was a learned man who had little small talk. He had no motor car and moved about the city happily on public transport or on foot. Perhaps due to isolation from colleagues with experience and status similar to his own in the period before and during the Second World War, Dr Allen did not readily adopt the new investigational and neurosurgical techniques.
It is uncertain how readily he would have welcomed the technical image-making or microvoltage recording apparatus available in the modern hospital, but it is certain that he would have exhausted the clinical approach before resorting to machinery diagnosis. His conservatism in the matter of investigation and surgery may have slowed the application of combined radiological and surgical skills, but his cautious way was associated with his firm marriage to things clinical and his anxiety that no one should be made worse by intervention. Investigation apart, he had tremendous learning and dedication and was New Zealand's first complete neurologist and scholar. His many publications may yet be the basis of a memorial presentation of his work and influence in the establishment of true neurology in New Zealand.
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