Allen, Roger

  • RogerAllenportraitAllen, Roger MB BS FRACP

    Early career

    I graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1974 before “heading bush” for my first-year residency at Geelong Hospital. I can remember one of my roles as the surgical resident was arranging for patients to be sent up to St Vincent’s Hospital, for the fortnightly spot allocated to Geelong patients, for that brand new radiology test – a CT! Moving on from Geelong I started at RCH in 1976 for training in General Paediatrics. Importantly in Geelong I met Ian Torode who was a second-year resident at the time. Ian obviously went on to become an important member of the RCH Orthopaedic department and with whom I shared rooms at RCH some 16 years later after I’d finally returned to Melbourne in 1991.

    During my initial RCH period I dabbled with an interest in singing and was in the chorus of the Victoria State Opera which in those pre-Victorian Arts Centre days performed at the Princess Theatre. One of the RCH anaesthetists, John Marum, was also a member of the chorus. Given the adage that “one doesn’t really know how one might go without trying” I basically took 1979 off from my RCH training. I soon realised I was no Pavarotti and concluded that if I tried really hard the best I could expect would be to graduate from the very back row to the second back row of the chorus! Luckily for me though, that year included the VSO doing a three-week season of Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers” at the Sydney Opera House with the Covent Garden-based Australian soprano, Yvonne Kenny, in the lead role. Quite a buzz.

    With common sense returning I went back to my training at RCH and completed the FRACP in 1982. I then headed overseas to train in paediatric rheumatology initially at the British Columbia Children’s Hospital in Vancouver then at the Clinical Research Centre, Harrow and Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. For these positions I was fortunate to be awarded the DEV Starr Travelling Fellowship in Rheumatology of the RACP in 1983 and the Nestle’s Paediatric Travelling Fellowship of the Australian College of Paediatrics in 1984. I came back to Australia in 1986 initially to the Camperdown Children’s Hospital in Sydney where I had the good fortune to meet Andrew Kemp, the head of Immunology there at the time. Andrew subsequently moved back to Melbourne and along with John McNamara created the opportunity for me to come back to RCH in 1991. The Rheumatology service at the time was quite patchy with a fortnightly clinic maintained by Helen Moran, an adult rheumatologist at RMH, who had undertaken the fortnightly RCH clinic as an unpaid VMO for 20+ years. Max Robinson, Don Roberton and Susan Randle had also worked in the clinic at various times.

    Building the RCH Rheumatology service

    The RCH Rheumatology service slowly built up and, with the encouragement of some of the regional paediatricians, I started regular outreach clinics in various centres – Geelong, Wangaratta, Shepparton, Traralgon, Warragul and Sale. I also undertook suburban clinics in Bundoora, Frankston and Ringwood. Importantly around the year 2000 the Australian Rheumatology Association recognised RCH as an accredited advanced training site for the FRACP since which time a number of excellent trainees have come through the hospital program, including quite a number from interstate and overseas. A definite high point for me was being awarded the Elizabeth Turner Medal by the Medical Staff Association in 2012 for my work in rheumatology. By the time I retired from any clinical role in December 2019 there were 6 paediatric rheumatologists in Melbourne, all graduates of the RCH program.

    The early 2000’s was an exciting time for us in rheumatology with the development of newer “biologic” therapies given the understanding of the role various cytokines play in inflammatory arthritis. The RCH unit participated in a number of international drug trials which had the added benefit of gaining earlier patient access to a number of these agents prior to any TGA/PBAC listing. Remembering the early days of my training, when probably at least a quarter of patients needed some form of splinting or aid to ambulate, compared to a more typical juvenile arthritis patients’ experience today is both dramatic and very rewarding. A child turning up to clinic in a wheel-chair these days is more likely to be the result of a netball or football injury sustained the previous week!

    Family and retirement

    Post retirement I’d like to think I’ve been active in a whole variety of interesting pursuits but I have to confess overwhelming sloth seems to sum up my regular day to day routine. I quite enjoy cooking and, having entertained an oncologist in recent years, I aim to keep myself reasonably fit. I enjoy snow skiing and I’m a member of the Albert Park/South Melbourne Rowing Club regularly taking out my single scull on the lake. And yes, I have fallen in a couple of times! My wife, Anna, and I have three sons (Lachlan, Hugh and Fraser), none of whom followed me down any medical path, but all making encouraging headway along their respective career paths. For the past 30 years I have lived all of 400 metres from, and in full view of the hospital. For good or bad it is impossible not to reflect on the impact RCH has had on my life practically every time I set foot outside the front door!