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Biographical entry Johnston, Ivan David Alexander (1929 - 2007)

MRCS and FRCS 1958; MB BCh BAO Queen’s University Belfast 1953; MCh 1958; LRCP 1958; Hon FACS 1984; FRCS Edin 1987.

4 October 1929
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Tyne and Wear, UK
29 December 2007
General surgeon


Ivan Johnston was professor of surgery at Newcastle-upon-Tyne and made major contributions to endocrine surgery. He was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on 4 October 1929, the son of David Johnston, a company secretary, and Mary née Clarke, and was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. He went on to study medicine at Queen’s University, qualifying in 1953.

He did his house officer jobs at the Royal Victoria Hospital under Sir Ian Fraser. After passing the primary, he joined the new department of surgery in Dublin under Harold Rodgers and Dick Welbourn, where Dennis Burkitt was another assistant. During this time Ivan was sent to Manchester under Michael Boyd.

In 1958 he passed the FRCS, married Elizabeth (Beth) and won a Fulbright scholarship to the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, where he carried out research into gastro-intestinal function.

After touring the United States in an elderly Dodge, he returned to Hammersmith Hospital as a senior lecturer, promoted to consultant status in 1963. During this time he was part of a team from the hospital, accompanied by Sir George Godber, the Chief Medical Officer, sent to India by the Ministry of Overseas Development, which resulted in the development of research facilities at the medical school in Chandigarh.

In 1965, Ivan was appointed professor of surgery at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in succession to Andrew Lowdon, who had died suddenly. He encouraged visitors from abroad and ensured that his juniors would travel abroad. His researches were chiefly in endocrinology and his extensive publications included monographs on The metabolic basis of surgical care (London, William Heinemann Medical Books, 1968) and Advances in parenteral nutrition (Lancaster, MTP press, and Baltimore, University Park Press, 1978).

At the Royal College of Surgeons Ivan served on the Court of Examiners for six years, and on the Council from 1974 to 1986 and was chairman of the specialist advisory committee in general surgery. He travelled extensively to examine in Khartoum, among other centres.

He was a keen member of the Travelling Surgical Society and its president in 1991. In 1993 he was president of the International Association of Endocrine Surgeons.

His first wife, Beth, died in 1987 from renal failure secondary to diabetes, and he married again in 1989, to Annette Maiden née Elphinstone. He had two sons from his first marriage, Stephen and Philip, who became a doctor and a vet. In his latter years Ivan developed failing eyesight and Parkinsonism. He died on 29 December 2007.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 2008 336 727; Travelling Surgical Society (

The Royal College of Surgeons of England