Royal Melbourne Hospital and Melbourne Health shone the light firmly on medical researchers recently with the establishment of its Research Hall of Fame and the awarding of its Research Medal at a glamorous gala celebration
When Dr Kathryn Field, a medical oncologist and clinical researcher, found herself in the same room as her childhood hero, Sir Gustav Nossal, recently, she found the experience “quite surreal”.
The occasion was a gala celebration on 28 June during which Sir Gustav and 18 fellow research giants were inducted into the Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) Research Hall of Fame.
Dr Field, who was there as one of two winners of the RMH Research Medal, said it was “a wonderful night” that reinforced her commitment to medical research.
“When I was 16 I went to the National Science Summer School in Canberra and Sir Gustav Nossal was one of the speakers, and I remember thinking what an amazing person he was”, Dr Field tells the MJA.
“I thought if I could aspire to achieve just a small proportion of what he had then I could be happy with that as a career.”
Sir Gustav Nossal, an immunologist and Australian of the Year in 2000, was inducted into the Hall of Fame for “greatly advancing understanding of clonal selection and the immune system’s ‘tolerance of self’” and for his commitment to “translating medical research into improved health for all”.
Also inducted were:
- Dr Edward Embley, for his pioneering work on chloroform in the early 20th century;
- Dr Lucy Bryce, who established Victoria’s first Blood Transfusion Service at RMH, for her work on serum production;
- Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet, who won the 1960 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on immunological tolerance;
- Dr E Graeme Robertson, for his work on encephalography;
- Sir Benjamin Keith Rank, for his work on plastic and reconstructive surgery;
- Dr John Cade, for his discovery of lithium as a treatment for mental health disorders;
- Professor Maurice Ewing, who performed Australia’s first kidney transplant;
- Professor Richard Lovell, for his work on treatment of high blood pressure, heart attacks and end-stage renal failure;
- Professor Priscilla Kincaid-Smith, who demonstrated the links between analgesic powders and kidney damage;
- Professor Michael Denborough, for his work on malignant hyperthermia;
- Dr Graeme Sloman, for his work in the field of cardiology, including the establishment of the Mobile Intensive Care Ambulance in Victoria;
- Professor Ian Mackay, who was a pioneer in immunosuppressive treatment for autoimmune diseases;
- Professor Richard Larkins, for his research into diabetes and endocrinology;
- Professor Don Metcalf, for his identification of colony-stimulating factors;
- Sir Peter Morris, for his work in transplantation and transplantation biology;
- Associate Professor James St John, who established the first bowel cancer registry in Australia in 1979, leading to the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program;
- Professor Richard Fox, who was involved in the pivotal clinical trials which led to cytokine therapy becoming the standard of care in cancer medicine; and
- Dr C Glenn Begley, whose research focused on leukaemia.
Dr Field shared the Research Medal with Professor Fary Khan, a physical and rehabilitation physician. Both received $50 000 to undertake further research in their fields.
Professor Khan, who is the Pacific region’s representative for the World Health Organization’s Disabilities committees (International Society of Physical and Medical Rehabilitation) and the International Disaster Committee, was delighted to receive the Medal and be in such esteemed company.
“It’s very exciting”, she tells the MJA.
“Rehabilitation medicine is not considered cool as a specialty because disability management is not well understood by many within the medical fraternity. This Research Medal finally recognises rehabilitation as mainstream. Although I was awarded the inaugural Royal Australasian College of Physicians award for Excellence in Mentoring and Research, this is the first time in Australia that such a prestigious medal has been awarded for Rehabilitation Medicine.”
As described in the MJA last year, the numbers of clinician–researchers, at least in some fields, has been shrinking.1
The Simon McKeon-led Strategic Review of Health and Medical Research, published in April 2013, said that the “current system does not adequately facilitate, incentivise or support research by the clinical workforce”.2
“Research is rarely financially rewarding for health professionals, who face increasing pressure to deliver clinical services rather than research”, the authors wrote.
“Protected research time through practitioner fellowships is required to ensure the best health professional researchers remain active in research.”
Professor Ingrid Winship, the executive director of research for Melbourne Health, and chair of adult clinical genetics at the University of Melbourne, disagreed, saying clinician-led research was “alive and well”.
“That’s the purpose of the Research Hall of Fame”, she tells the MJA. “We wanted to celebrate research and it was so inspiring to see those legends that were able to be there.”
The RMH Research Medal was targeted at mid career researchers who had been involved in research for between 5 and 15 years, she says.
Dr Field, whose research has included work on clinical databases for bowel cancer patients in everyday practice as well as more recently in brain tumour targeted therapy clinical trials, says “I never considered myself a contender”.
“I still feel really quite junior”, she says. “I never stop learning. I’ve had some amazing mentors along the way and I still rely on them.
“I’m hoping one day that I will be able to mentor someone else so they can get the encouragement and reinforcement that I’ve had.”
Oncology, Dr Field says, is one medical specialty in which the numbers of clinician–researchers are plentiful.
“Quite a lot of my colleagues are doing higher degrees and working in laboratories”, she says. “Doing research in oncology is looked on favourably and we’re always encouraged to do more study and research.”
For Professor Khan, the RMH Medal and its accompanying prize money will do much to boost the research capacity for rehabilitation medicine and its profile.
“It is hard in rehabilitation to attract funding for research”, she says. “Disabilities are not pretty to look at and it is often a case of out of sight, and out of mind.
“Although we are a small faculty of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, we have an important role and are the ‘missing link’ for patients between hospitals and the community. Our research in disability translates into functional recovery and social reintegration, which benefit the patients and community.
“We’re passionate about what we do and believe we make a difference.”
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