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Biographical entry McDonald, Ian Alexander (1922 - 1990)

MRCS and FRCS 1949; MB BS Melbourne 1946; MRCOG 1952; FRCOG 1963; FRACS 1953; FAGO 1974; FRACOG 1979; MGO Melbourne 1982.

1 April 1922
Perth, Western Australia, Australia
4 September 1990
Obstetrician and gynaecologist


Ian Alexander McDonald was born in Perth, Western Australia, on 1 April 1922, the son of Neil McDonald, a Presbyterian Minister, who at one stage was Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Western Australia. His paternal grandfather had emigrated from the Western Isles, and his grandmother Munroe, from the Isle of Mull. His mother, whose maiden name was Rees, came from one of the pioneer families of the Western District and her grandfather Thomas Rees had emigrated from Wales in 1854.

Ian's early education was at Geelong College where, in addition to academic pursuits, he developed a great interest in music and singing. His great school friend was Ken Menzies, son of Sir Robert Menzies, later to become Prime Minister of Australia. Sir Robert once recalled his introduction to Ian when he came back to stay with Ken for the holidays. The then Attorney-General greeted him "Hello my boy, and what do you do?", to which Ian replied "I sing". "Well, sing me something". With great enthusiasm and in a clear treble voice the young McDonald immediately obliged with "Oh, for the wings of a dove". His ability to sing delighted his friends throughout his life, including professional colleagues after dinners and his fellow Scots after Burns' night suppers.

After leaving school he entered the University of Melbourne for medical studies graduating in 1946 with an exhibition and first class honours in biochemistry. He was resident medical officer and later gynaecological registrar under Leslie Gleadell at the Royal Melbourne Hospital until 1948. During this time he was awarded the Nualasy Prize in operative gynaecology. He was also tutor in anatomy and amongst his pupils was a young physiotherapy student, who had suffered poliomyelitis, could not write and had to pass a viva examination; this student was Roberta Whiteside who became a bride in 1947 and the mother of the three McDonald children, Malcolm, James and Kate.

In 1948 he saw military service with the occupation forces in Japan and then left for England for postgraduate training. For four years he trained successively at Queen Charlotte's, Chelsea, North Middlesex and Samaritan Free Hospitals for Women and during this time gained the FRCS in 1949 and the MRCOG in 1952. Following his return to Australia he was appointed assistant gynaecologist to the Royal Melbourne Hospital and later in 1966 till retirement in 1982 he was honorary gynaecologist and gynaecologist in chief. He was honorary obstetrician and gynaecologist at Footscray and District Hospital as well as tutor at Queens College, University of Melbourne. He was the author of a book entitled A method of obstetrics and gynaecology, published in 1971, which he dictated on to a primitive tape recorder on the front seat of his car as he did his round from hospital to hospital. Later his teaching urge made him create a video film on carcinoma of the vulva which earned him a high accolade in the United States. The two types of McDonald suture (vaginal and abdominal) which he devised for cervical cerclage will maintain his place in the history of obstetrics and result in the salvage of many pregnancies and the saving of the lives of many children.

He was a great supporter of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in Australia. Initially elected Members' representative for Victoria in 1957 he served on the Council continuously until 1978. He was secretary for two terms and was elected President in 1975. During his presidency the College in Australia became financially secure and in spite of political change he kept the College free of Government support and thereby influence. He recognised the need to upgrade the educational requirement for members of the College and expanded the programmes for Registrar Hospital Training in obstetrics and gynaecology, introducing the new diploma FAGO - Fellow in Gynaecology and Obstetrics in Australia as the recognised diploma for specialisation in Australia. His vision also included the establishment of the Australian College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, independent of the mother College in London, emphasising throughout the philosophy of "Evolution not revolution".

In 1963 he had been awarded the Robert Fowler Travelling Scholarship by the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria and from this he acquired a profound knowledge of gynaecological oncology which resulted in his unit at the Royal Melbourne Hospital becoming a leading oncology centre in Australia. He published a monograph called Female genital tract cancer in 1963 and was joint author of the history of the Australian College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Super Ardua, published in 1981.

After retiring from practice in 1982 he was appointed consultant gynaecologist to the Royal Melbourne Hospital. He died on 4 September 1990, aged 68, and is survived by his wife Bobbie, his daughter, two sons, both of whom are qualified doctors, and eight grandchildren.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Aust NZ J Obst Gyn 1991, 31, 96; Med J Aust 1991, 154, 704; Roy Coll Obst Gyn Bull 1990, p.21].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England