Collins, Kevin

  • KevinCollins1

    Kevin was born in London in June 1944, four days after the original D-Day and arrived in Melbourne with his parents two-and-a-half years later.

    It was only in late adult life that he wondered what it must have been like for Vernon, the Australian physician and his wife Josephine, the Irish nurse, to be expecting a baby with Hitler's bombs raining down on their city and damaging the North Middlesex hospital where they both worked and had first met.

    At school, Kevin's affinity for science and languages (both living and dead) was matched by his striking incompetence in cricket and football (both compulsory and socially important in boys' schools at the time).

    His choice of medicine at the University of Melbourne (UniMelb) in 1962 arose partly from eliminating unattractive options and partly from what he saw of a doctor’s life through his father Vernon, who maintained a remarkably healthy balance between work, family and leisure despite his major responsibilities at the Royal Children's Hospital (RCH).

    During the medical rotation of his internship year at St Vincent's Hospital (SVH) in 1968, Kevin found Dr Maurice Clarke to be an inspiring role model, and seriously considered becoming an adult general physician. To this end, he spent a second year at SVH, including six months in the professorial medical unit.  

    Rewarding as this was, he decided that, given his family history, he should at least explore paediatrics before becoming further involved in adult medicine training. Former medical school classmates gave encouraging reports of their experience at RCH, so Kevin arrived there as a “JRMO” in 1970, liked it and stayed for over 40 years.

    In 1973, his fourth year at RCH, having declared an interest in paediatric neurology, Kevin was fortunate to be offered a combined appointment as Chief Resident and Assistant to the Neurology clinic. In that eventful year he also married his first wife and passed the then MRACP examination.

    Kevin does not recall exactly what led him to pursue neurology. Perhaps there was an early indication in the third year of the medical course when he actually enjoyed writing an essay in the final Physiology examination (for which he was awarded the Exhibition) about the mechanisms involved in performing a coordinated movement.

    With encouragement and guidance from the late Dr Ian Hopkins and welcome financial support from the Uncle Bobs and (former) Nestlé travelling scholarships, Kevin was accepted into the child neurology training program at Washington University and affiliated hospitals, in St. Louis (pronounced “Saynt Lewis” by its inhabitants), Missouri USA. The young couple arrived there in June 1974, were made most welcome for two years, and their first child was born there.

    Among the many culture shocks experienced was the transition from working at RCH with 400 beds and one paediatric neurologist, to St Louis Children’s with only 180 beds but seven staff neurologists, all of whom had major research commitments. But first Kevin had to pass through the purifying fires of a year of adult neurology and neurosurgery, having trained exclusively in paediatrics for four years.  In that era, such experience was seen as  an integral part of paediatric neurology training, but thankfully no longer. 

    Soon after returning to Melbourne in 1976, Kevin began working in several different settings. Within RCH, he had sessional appointments in two departments. In Neurology he shared the clinical and EEG reporting load with Ian Hopkins and Lloyd Shield for over 15 years, then later with an expanding group of younger colleagues. 

    His other RCH commitment was in a department whose name changed several times, currently Neurodevelopment and Disability, managed in turn by John Court, Dinah Reddihough, Katrina Williams and now Gordon Baikie. As well as providing clinical consultations for children whose development caused concern, Kevin was tasked with leading a multidisciplinary team assessing young children who often had a complex pattern of delayed or atypical development. He had no prior training or experience in such a setting, and learned much more about the valued contribution of allied health colleagues than would otherwise have occurred. Further, weekly meetings with the rather forthright mental health professionals in the team often took him beyond the comfort zone of neurology with its more restrained interactions.

    In 1977, after an approach from Professor Arthur Clark, Kevin was appointed sessional paediatric neurologist at the former Queen Victoria Hospital, and later at Monash Medical Centre. This provided contact with a different group of colleagues and more experience with neonates. Further, it was valuable for a “recently hatched” paediatric neurologist to work in a setting where his opinions were more open to challenge than at RCH, partly because general paediatricians at “Queen Vic” had previously managed a wide range of patients without in-house subspecialist support.

    Ian Hopkins soon arranged for Kevin to succeed him as visiting consultant paediatric neurologist to the Mercy Maternity Hospital, leading to further neonatal experience. The working week was gradually rounded out with private consulting sessions.

    Kevin’s main focus has been the clinical encounter: the child, the family and the presenting problem, aiming (with varying success) to establish trust, elicit cooperation, solve mysteries, explain clearly  – and not infrequently, to break bad news as well as possible. 

    His other strong interest, medical teaching, emerged while still a resident at SVH, and later involved diverse groups – parent associations, nursing and allied health students and staff, medical students, paediatric trainees and consultants as well as other medical practitioner groups. He particularly valued the weekly clinic Dinah Reddihough instigated, in which he could carefully supervise paediatric trainees without the time pressure of his own patient list.

    Among several interests outside medicine, Kevin’s love of the French language has a special place. After returning to study French in 1999, he acquired the DALF (advanced French language diploma) from the French ministry of education, then a Graduate Diploma in Arts (French) at UniMelb and has enjoyed visiting France a number of times. Now that the relevant RCH administrators are Alumni members, he can confess that his sabbatical at the Robert Debré Hospital in Paris in 2008 may have been more about a French immersion experience than for purely neurological reasons.

    Remarkably, Kevin’s children were not deterred from careers as health professionals. His son is a paediatric anaesthetist in Seattle and his daughter has qualifications in psychology and speech pathology. He has two granddaughters. 

    Two career highlights warrant special mention. In 2011, Trevor Duke offered Kevin the scary honour of presenting the final Grand Round at the 1963 RCH. This became a life-changing experience – soliciting ideas from a wide range of hospital staff, examining the digital image collection of the then ERC (now Creative Services), deciding what not to include in the available 50 minutes, and collaborating with musically talented colleagues – all culminating in the overwhelming response of the audience which overflowed well beyond the Ella Latham auditorium .

    Secondly, and ultimately life-changing in a more profound way, was Kevin’s encounter with the world of clinical research. In 1994 he joined a group of illustrious colleagues in obtaining three-year NHMRC funding for a case-control study, with subsequent overseas conference presentation and journal publication. This study was initiated by Bronwyn Parry-Fielder, then head of speech pathology at RCH and now Kevin’s wife.

    Kevin feels very fortunate to have had such a rich and varied working life.

    April 2023