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Vernon Leslie Collins (1909–1978)

by Lyndsay Gardiner

This article was published:

Vernon Leslie Collins (1909-1978), medical practitioner, was born on 10 November 1909 at Nhill, Victoria, third child of John Collins, farmer, and his wife Susan Alice, née Hann, both Victorian born. Vernon was educated at Horsham High School and the University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1933; M.D., 1936). After residencies at Royal Melbourne Hospital (1934-36) and the (Royal) Children's Hospital (1936), he was medical superintendent at the latter institution in 1937-39. He published a monograph, Infant Feeding (1939), which became a standard text.

In London, in 1940 Collins was elected a member of the Royal College of Physicians and awarded a diploma of child health by the Royal College of Surgeons. At St Joseph's Catholic Church, Highgate Hill, on 20 July that year he married a nurse Mary Josephine O'Shea. He worked at North Middlesex County Hospital until 1946 as full-time physician to adults and also had responsibility for the children's ward.

Returning to the (Royal) Children's Hospital, Melbourne, Collins was honorary physician to out-patients (from 1946) and then to in-patients (from 1948). Experience had convinced him that the hospital's medical administration needed restructuring if modern advances in knowledge, training methods and clinical research were to be successfully implemented. His views were shared by the new lady superintendent Lucy de Neeve and the president Lady Latham. In 1949 Collins was appointed first medical director, responsible for all medical and ancillary services, and able to control and initiate policy.

The three objects of the (Royal) Children's Hospital, as Collins saw them, were patient-care, research and teaching. His prime achievement in the area of patient-care was to substitute a senior, salaried staff for the time-honoured system of honorary medical officers. Clinical assistants were replaced by senior specialists on a salaried, sessional basis. The large departments were administered by paid, full-time specialists with a salaried staff. The existing clinical research unit was able to expand. Closely integrated with the hospital, it comprised a small research ward with an independent nursing staff and adjacent laboratories. On the teaching side, Collins insisted that undergraduates receive instruction from salaried, senior doctors, both in the wards and the clinics.

In 1959 Collins became the first occupant of the Stevenson chair of child health (later paediatrics) at the University of Melbourne. He remained in close contact with the R.C.H. and represented the university on its committee of management, reinforcing the hospital's teaching role. At the university he was a fellow of Queen's College.

Honorary consulting paediatrician to the Alfred, the Royal Women's, the Mercy and the Prince Henry hospitals, Collins was president of the Paediatric Society of Victoria (1955) and of the Australian Paediatric Association (1969-70). He was a councillor (1952-59) of the British Medical Association in Australia and a member (1960-65) of the National Health and Medical Research Council, whose child-health committee he chaired (1966-69). His recreations were gardening and tennis; in his early years he had played the violin, and music consoled him when in 1969 he developed Parkinson's disease. Appointed C.B.E. in 1973, he retired in 1975. He died on 24 March 1978 at his Hawthorn home and was cremated; his wife and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Gardiner, Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne 1870-1970 (Melb, 1970)
  • K. F. Russell, The Melbourne Medical School 1862-1962 (Melb, 1977)
  • H. Williams, From Charity to Teaching Hospital (Melb, 1989)
  • Gazette (University of Melbourne), Oct 1959, p 11
  • Herald (Melbourne), 6 Jan 1975
  • private information.

Citation details

Lyndsay Gardiner, 'Collins, Vernon Leslie (1909–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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