Lifetime Achievement Award for Professor John McNeil AM

Professor John McNeil AM receives the David de Kretser Medal and Lifetime Achievement Award from Professor Christina Mitchell, Dean, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health SciencesOur School was thrilled last week to see our Head of School, Professor John McNeil AM, presented with the David de Kretser Medal and Lifetime Achievement Award by the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences. Established in 2006, the awards acknowledge an individual’s contribution to the faculty and medical science generally.

Named in honour of Professor David de Kretser, the medal is awarded annually to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to any area of the faculty’s operation over a significant period of his or her working life.

Professor McNeil received the award in recognition of his vast contributions to public health and epidemiology. He joins several prestigious previous winners of this award including:

  • The inventor of the bionic ear, Professor Graeme Clark AC;
  • Former Australian of the year Professor Fiona Stanley AC;
  • Eminent cancer researcher, Professor Ian Frazer;
  • Sir Gustav Nossal – arguably the most prominent Australian scientist of the modern era.

Professor McNeil is a Pharmacologist by training, and he gained experience in epidemiology after a National Heart Foundation grant took him to conduct postgraduate research at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. In subsequent years he held clinical appointments as a visiting specialist physician at the Austin, Alfred and Monash Health.

In 1986 he was appointed directly to the Monash Chair of Social & Preventive Medicine based at the Alfred Hospital. At the time the department had five academic staff and two support staff. Over subsequent years the department, now the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, has grown and evolved around a core of methodological skills in epidemiology, clinical medicine, biostatistics & data-management to become a national leader in clinical, public health and health services research. Much of the work of the department now centres on large-scale clinical trials, clinical registries and major occupational cohorts.

Professor McNeil’s key contributions have included the development (along with Professor Chris Reid, Professor Mark Nelson, Associate Professor Robyn Woods and others) of a strategy to undertake large community-based intervention trials. He initiated the ASPREE (ASPirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly) trial of low-dose aspirin in the elderly which is the largest trial conducted within Australia. In September this year, Professor McNeil, along with his colleagues, published the results of the landmark ASPREE study. The work was published in three papers in the September issue of the highly prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

The largest clinical trial ever conducted in Australia, ASPREE looked at the effects of a daily dose of aspirin in 19,000 healthy elderly people. The results showed that low-dose aspirin did not prolong healthy life or substantially reduce the incidence of heart attack or stroke, challenging the current clinical practice of recommending a low daily dose of aspirin to elderly patients.

He also initiated and achieved funding for various sub-studies of ASPREE which will ensure that ASPREE will become a major epidemiological resource for the study of the elderly. Professor McNeil has also lead the development of clinical quality registries and their application to monitoring the safety and quality of medical care.

His broader leadership roles have included service on various Boards of Management within the health sector, including The Alfred and Austin Hospitals, as well as service on a number of Ministerial Committees advising on a range of health issues. He also spent 10 years as Secretary of the International Society of Cardiovascular Pharmacotherapy.

Professor McNeil’s research interests have been focused on the application of epidemiological methods to problems in clinical medicine and public health. He has published over 500 papers, co-authored over 160, and his total citations are more than 33,700. In 2009 he was made a member of the General Division of The Order of Australia (AM) in recognition of services to public health.

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