Digby Ormond-Brown is the principal neuropsychologist at the Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital. As a student, he managed to secure a place for himself on a postgraduate neuroanatomy course taught by the illustrious Prof Phillip Tobias. This made an enormous and lasting impression and taught him about the profound relevance of evolution to brain function. Our brains evolved as they did because we are primates, social animals who live in groups. Moreover, we use language to communicate, something no other species can do. Indeed, we are the Symbolic Species and language is embedded in the architecture of our brains.

Photograph of Prof PV Tobias
Prof Phillip Tobias, paeleoanthropologist

Having obtained a joint honours degree in psychology and philosophy, he underwent training in neuropsychology and neuroscience at the University of the Witwatersrand with Prof Michael Saling. He completed a thesis entitled Attentional Dysfunction in Autism: Psychophysiological and Neurochemical Perspectives.  If you’d like to download a photocopy of the thesis, you can do so here.  (Careful, it is a large file and the photocopy is terrible.) 

Health Psychology

After graduating cum laude, he needed work. Since he happens to have a few mathematical skills, he applied for a position as a statistician on the “TBI Project.” It is deeply ironic that he was so green and ignorant in those days that when he applied for the job, he didn’t even know what the acronym TBI stood for! As it happens, it stands for traumatic brain injury, right up his alley!

The job was in UNISA’s Health Psychology Unit, which was led by Prof Victor Nell.  Digby Ormond-Brown crunched the numbers on a large-scale project into the epidemiology of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in Johannesburg.  What incredible serendipity that this job was in an area that was already a strong interest of Digby’s.

Photograh of Prof V Nell
Prof Victor Nell, dear friend, mentor and neuropsychologist

That work soon led to additional roles as a clinician assessing patients in the TBI epidemiology project.  The Health Psychology Unit had offices in the National Centre for Occupational Health, which led to cooperative projects in neurotoxicology. Digby learnt about and examined patients exposed to organic solvents, organophosphate pesticides, mercury, and manganese.  This was important to his development as a neuropsychologist and provided a solid training in clinical neuropsychological assessment. Understanding the effect of toxins on brain function sharpened his focus on the neuroscience that underpins brain function.

Brain Function and Systemic Illnesses

Deployment at the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) clinic at the (then) Johannesburg General Academic Hospital followed. There, he learnt about the role of systemic illness in brain dysfunction. Work at the HIV Clinic provided hands on experience in the real world application of neuropsychology and gave Digby an understanding of the ripple effect of brain dysfunction on people’s lives and their families.

During that time period, he had also worked as a tutor at the Neuropsychology Clinic at Hillbrow Hospital, assisting Prof Nell. Digby then took over from Prof Nell and ran the clinic for a few years. He provided training for clinical psychologists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, and physiotherapists. Interaction with other departments within the hospital added to his understanding of systemic illness in brain dysfunction. For instance, autoimmune conditions such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

The Headway Debacle

Digby was lured away from academia when he accepted an offer as Director of the Headway Head Injury and Stroke Clinic. Regretfully, this move proved to be a catastrophe as the clinic was on the brink of bankruptcy.  Shortly after accepting the role, the clinic was closed down.

Fortunately, the clinic’s competition at that time, the Barney Hurwitz Medical Institute, stepped into the breach and offered Digby rooms at the Institute, where he was able to set up practice.  The Netcare hospital group subsequently purchased the Barney Hurwitz Medical Institute and renamed it the Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital, its name to this day.

A pic of Digby Ormond-Brown
Digby Ormond-Brown

Digby Ormond-Brown and Drug Trials

He has participated in multiple drug trials and is very proud of his small contribution to this research. This work led to the development of acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, drugs such as Aricept and Reminyl. In the longer term, these drugs went on to become one of the mainstays in the management of dementia.

Aviation, Insurance and Medicolegal Skills

Additionally, Digby also does medicolegal work and is an expert witness in the High Court and has given testimony in countless matters. He is recognised for his objectivity and neutrality. In fact, he is one of the few experts who has been commended by judges for the quality of his evidence. Thankfully, he enjoys the rigors of cross-examination and sparring with advocates.

Over and above medicolegal work, he enjoys undertaking work for insurance companies. In this situation, insurers need to evaluate medical disability claims made by their clients. Without doubt, that work has exposed him to a range of curious cases some of which have been challenging to evaluate.

The Civil Aviation Authority made use of Digby’s services in assessing pilots, aircrew and air traffic controllers and their fitness to fly or otherwise work in that the aviation arena. He had a lot of fun in flight simulators and learning about the mental demands made on pilots and air traffic controllers.


He became consultant neuropsychologist to the Centre for Sports Medicine and Orthopaedics in 2002.
That connection remains and the assessment and management of concussion continues to be one of his areas of expertise.

Ormond Neuroscience

Meanwhile, his practice at the Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital has morphed into Ormond Neuroscience and is now a mature and established practice within the field of neuroscience.