Ian Donald

Last revised by Daniel J Bell on 24 Feb 2020

Ian Donald (1910-1987) was a Scottish obstetrician who pioneered the diagnostic use of ultrasound in medicine.

Ian Donald was born in Lisgeard, Cornwall, United Kingdom on 27 December 1910 6. His father was a general practitioner. In 1925 his family moved to South Africa where he attended Cape Town University. He returned to study medicine at St Thomas’ Hospital where he qualified in 1937. He started as a House Physician in obstetrics and gynecology.  He served as a medical officer in World War 2 and was awarded a military MBE in 1946. In 1951 he became Reader at the Hammersmith Hospital, London. In 1954 he was appointed to the Chair of Midwifery at Glasgow University in Scotland.

In 1956 he formed his research team comprising Tom Brown, an engineer from Kelvin Hughes (a company specializing in the design and manufacture of  navigational instrumentation) and John MacVicar, then a registrar on his unit at the Glasgow Western Infirmary. In 1957 they built the first contactless scanner and in 1958 published their classic paper in the Lancet "Investigation of abdominal masses by pulsed ultrasound" 3. Ultrasound was used by Donald’s team to study early pregnancy. Several important clinical ultrasound papers followed.

The technique however opened up vast possibilities in other areas of clinical medicine which today we take for granted

In 1955 he published his classic 'Practical Obstetric Problems' which continued through several editions even after his death.

The many honors he received included:

  • Eardley Holland Gold Medal of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (1970) 4
  • Commander of the British Empire (CBE) (1973)
  • Simpson Oration at the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists
  • Harding Award (1979) 5
  • honorary DSC, University of London (1981)
  • honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (FRCOG) (1982)
  • honorary DSC, University of Glasgow (1983)
  • honorary fellowship of the British Medical Ultrasound Society (BMUS) (1984)

He died on 19 June 1987 6.

Donald’s work revolutionised the practice of obstetrics and gynecology making pregnancy safer for women globally. In addition, ultrasound was to develop and help in the non-invasive diagnosis of other medical conditions, becoming an invaluable tool for the investigation of patients throughout the world. 

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