As he prepares to receive a Harry Jerome award for excellence in the medical profession, Dr. Upton Allen turns back the clock to his childhood days growing up in Jamaica and his father’s constant whispering in his ears about the importance of being a well-rounded person.
“It’s ironic because I see a parallel between myself and Harry,” said Allen, one of 16 recipients of the awards that honour brilliance in Canada’s Black community. “Besides always telling me I should strive to do well academically, he also encouraged me to play sports.”
Jerome, who had a Masters degree in Physical Education, set seven world track records and established the parameters for the creation of the federal Ministry of Sport before succumbing to a brain aneurysm at age 42 in December 1982.
Raised in Port Antonio, Allen, a graduate of Titchfield High School, ran track, captained the school’s cricket team and played soccer before going to the University of the West Indies, Mona campus to pursue medical studies.
“My late parents were school principals, so education was obviously a priority in our household,” said Allen who is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in Canada and England and a Fellow of the American Academy of Paediatrics. “I enjoyed being active and taking part in sports while developing a passion for medicine as I observed the necessity to provide good medical care in developing countries.”
Allen’s early medical interest was in the field of malaria after reading the works of noted British doctor Sir Ronald Ross who won a Nobel Prize in 1902 for discovering the malarial parasite.
“After learning of his accomplishments, I couldn’t help feeling that I would like to be like him one day,” said Allen who graduated with honours in medicine and therapeutics from the UWI in 1981.
He came to Canada two years later to pursue specialized pediatric training that lasted four years at the Hospital for Sick Children (HSC) that’s affiliated with the University of Toronto. He completed his Masters in Clinical Epidemiology at McMaster University and spent five years in the department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Ottawa General Hospital, University of Ottawa and the hospital’s Microbiology division prior to returning to the HSC in 1995 where he’s the Chief of the Infectious Disease Division.
Allen, whose research interests are in the areas of infections in immuno-compromised patients and transplant-related infections, said the six years he spent at UWI shaped his professional career.
“For me, the UWI stands out as an institution that teaches exceptional clinical skills,” said Allen who was a visiting professor and external examiner for the Caribbean university’s paediatric degree candidates. “It also recognizes that what comes first in the pursuit of a good diagnosis is the ability to accurately record a patient’s history, perform a thorough physical examination and have excellent bedside manners. Those are the things that stuck with me during my medical training and which are still present with me.”
Allen and his five siblings have all done well for themselves.
Sisters Valerie and Maureen Allen are a school principal and banker respectively while Lorna Lowe is a technical manager at Grace Kennedy Ltd. His brothers Norman and Tim are in the fields of engineering and farming respectively.
The 29th annual Harry Jerome awards ceremony takes place on April 30 at the Toronto Convention Centre.
The price of admission is $200.