Endocrinologists named in honours list


By Mardi Chapman

25 Jan 2024

Distinguished Professor Barbora de Courten

Australia Day Honours typically celebrate the past achievements and service of recipients but for Distinguished Professor Barbora de Courten, her OAM is motivation to do even more.

Professor de Courten, Associate Dean and Professor of Medicine at RMIT University and an Adjunct Professor at Monash University and University of Queensland and Specialist Physician at Monash Health, was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in the General Division for her service to medical research, and to healthcare.

She told the limbic she was very honoured to be recognised, particularly as someone who wasn’t born in Australia.

“Being recognised through an Order of Australia is a significant acknowledgement but the question is, what can you then do with that for the greater good of society and the medfical profession. This sort of award gives you recognition but also agency to do more.”

Professor de Courten, who has a broad background across epidemiology, pathophysiology, clinical trials and public health, said her seminal research was her early work conducted in the US identifying inflammation as a predictor of insulin resistance and later development of type 2 diabetes. [link here]

In her 20 years in Australia, her research has included identifying novel predictors of chronic diseases and nutritional and drug therapies that lower chronic inflammation and can be used for the prevention and treatment of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

She has led the Healthy Ageing Program at Monash University (2020-2022) and before then was Head of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute (2004-2015).

On her list to “do more” to create a larger impact in healthcare is a plan to establish a multidisciplinary Centre for Health by Design at RMIT University.

She said co-design in healthcare was often tokenistic – with solutions often presented to consumers and other stakeholders as a fait accompli except for some superficial fine tuning.

Instead, “design thinking” to address healthcare problems will truly put the perspectives of users – patients or clinicians – at the centre and through this redefine the issues and reveal novel solutions.

“So for example, in our diabetes clinics at Monash Health, we have a relatively big proportion of people who do not present to their medical appointments despite getting a SMS a few days prior to the appointment.”

“One obvious solution could be to send patients more reminders but if you actually start with the patient, empathise with them and understand their journey through the healthcare system, you may find out that the problem lies somewhere else like transport to the hospital.

“A lot of our patients at Monash Health have low socioeconomic status and language barriers. Therefore the solution in this case might be providing transport or telehealth.”

“I want to bring multidisciplinary teams together – people from health, people from design, people from business around value-based health care, computing and engineering, but also social sciences, because you need these multidisciplinary teams to then create real innovative solutions,” she said.

“We cannot do more of the same and expect different results.”

An advocate for “continuous learning, unlearning and relearning” throughout a career, Professor de Courten recommends more clinicians consider investing in an MBA.

“What happens both in the hospitals and academia, is you might be a fantastic researcher or clinician and because of that, you become a head of the department but you may not be a good leader or know how to manage a budgets.”

“I’ve done a lot of leadership training over the years, but the Monash Executive MBA was transformational for me.”

Passion, a willingness to say yes to opportunities, collaborating with other experts and finding good mentors within and outside one’s field of work and prioritising self-care are her other tips for shaping and managing a career with impact.

Professor John Wark

Also recognised this year with a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the General Division was endocrinologist Emeritus Professor John Wark.

Professor Wark was recognised for his significant service to medicine, particularly endocrinology, as a clinician, educator, and mentor.

He is Honorary Emeritus Physician in Bone and Mineral Medicine and Endocrinology at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the University of Melbourne.

Professor Wark’s global contributions include participation in WHO working groups shaping guidelines for clinical trials in osteoporosis and menopause research.

He has recently published on long-term bone and growth outcomes of extremely preterm infants, clinical practice guidelines for osteoporosis and fracture prevention in Canada, and weight and body composition following risk-reducing salpingo-oophorectomy.

Professor Wark has been a member of local and international professional societies including the Endocrine Society of Australia, the Australian Society for Medical Research, the Endocrine Society (US), the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research and the International Bone and Mineral Society.

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