Lives of the fellows

Chisholm McDowell

b.20 March 1901 d.27 February 1977
MB ChB Otago(1925) MRCP(1931) FRCP(1957)

Chisholm McDowell was born in Auckland, New Zealand, the son of a doctor, William Chisholm Wilson McDowell and his wife Lilian Day, née George. Chisholm was educated at King’s College, Auckland, where he was dux two years in succession and played in the school 1st XV. He went on to study law at Auckland University College, then changed his mind and entered Otago Medical School. At Knox College he became friendly with Douglas Robb, later Sir Douglas [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.391], then two years his senior, and this friendship was to bear fruit some twenty years later.

After qualification Chisholm was appointed house surgeon at the Auckland Hospital for the next three years, at a time when the tuberculous soldiers invalided from the first world war where accommodated in single bed huts and exposed to the elements. These patients stimulated Chisholm’s interest in chest medicine and he resolved to become a physician and make it his specialty. He came to the UK and spent four years at the Brompton Hospital, as a postgraduate on the resident staff, where he saw the early development of surgery in the treatment of tuberculosis, under Tudor Edwards. He then spent a year as house physician at the National Heart Hospital. After obtaining his membership of the College, he returned to Auckland in 1932 and set up a consulting practice m Queen Street. The following year he married Dawn, née Harding, the daughter of a farmer, and they had three children - two daughters and a son, who all provided him with grandchildren to his great pride and satisfaction.

At that time, visiting appointments at a public hospital were on an honorary basis, subject to reappointment every two years, with retirement at the age of 60. But the appointment of Chisholm McDowell as visiting tuberculosis officer to the then Epsom Shelters -on the future Green Lane Hospital site - broke new ground; it was a part-time salaried position with retirement at age 65.

Although he continued his private consultancy all his life an increasing involvement with his tuberculous patients often meant working seven morning sessions a week. Under Chisholm’s management the treatment of tuberculosis was well organized by the end of the 1930s, but at that time there was a need for a surgeon to undertake thoracic operations. Chisholm prevailed upon Douglas Robb to take on thoracic work and, on Chisholm’s recommendation, he was appointed thoracic surgeon to Green Lane Hospital in 1942. The friendship and team work of these two men resulted in the establishment of a chest unit, with increased staff and with Chisholm as physician in charge - a position he held until his retirement in 1966.

In 1938 he became a foundation fellow of the newly formed Australasian College of Physicians. He was on the executive of the Auckland divison of the BMA and served a term as president in 1947. He was the BMA nominee on the New Zealand Medical Council for some years. He was elected a Fellow of the College in 1957. On retirement he was appointed to the honorary consulting staff of the Auckland Hospital Board and, in recognition of his contribution to thoracic medicine, elected an honorary member of the Thoracic Society of New Zealand.

Chisholm was an outstanding physician with a phenomenal memory both for patients and medical problems. He was an excellent and meticulous teacher, but he was not an enthusiastic lecturer. He disliked publicity and avoided involving himself in medical politics, though he found himself on a number of committees to which he gave inestimable service. For him, the profession of medicine meant devoted and selfless service to sick people and all those who put themselves under his care. He was a quiet man, but behind a mildly forbidding exterior there was great kindness and understanding. He was a good friend, the best of company and an excellent host, as well as being a wise counsellor on many aspects of life. He was conservative in outlook and disliked change - which extended to his refusal to fly, prefering the NZ railway to carry him on his frequent journeys to Wellington.

Outside his clinical work, he loved the quiet of his home and enjoyed working in the garden, reading or listening to the radio. He never came to terms with television. He enjoyed cricket and football and attended many games at Eden Park. In the last few years of his life he suffered the effects of a minor stroke which curtailed his physical activities but, fortunately, left his mental faculties as acute as ever. He endured this irksome state with characteristic patience and good humour.

J R Hinds

[NZ Med J., 1977]

(Volume IX, page 335)

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