Top respiratory scientist named in Australia Day Honours

By Geir O'Rourke

26 Jan 2023

Professor Bruce Thompson has been one of the biggest names in respiratory medicine over the past few years, amid a pandemic, bushfires and a national crisis in dust diseases and air pollution.

The clinical scientist is now being recognised for his contribution to the specialty, having been made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the Australia Day Honours.

The accolade is for “significant service to respiratory medicine, and to tertiary medical education”, and such as been his impact that it can be easy to forget at times that Professor Thompson is not himself a doctor.

Professor Bruce Thompson. Source University of Melbourne

In fact he became the first non-medical president of TSANZ when he took up the role in 2019.

“To take on that role through a once-in-a-century respiratory pandemic was certainly a challenge,” reflects Professor Thompson, habitually understated in an interview with the limbic.

“I wouldn’t recommend it for someone who wants an easy life.”

Beyond COVID-19, the respiratory agenda has been jam packed, with e-cigarettes, lung cancer screening, silicosis, bushfires and air pollution all making headlines during his tenure as president.

“It can feel like lung health is being attacked on all fronts at times,” he says.

“But the level of community awareness is also changing, as recognition of the issues by governments, so there have been positives as well.”

Professor Thompson began his career three decades ago, working in hospital respiratory and sleep laboratories.

He developed an international reputation in pulmonary gas exchange physiology early in his career whilst doing his PhD in conjunction with the NASA physiology laboratory at the University of California San Diego and is now regarded as an international expert on clinical respiratory management.

He is currently also a fellow of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Respiratory Science and Asia Pacific Society of Respirology.

Other roles include head of the University of Melbourne School of Health Sciences, an adjunct professor at Monash University and principal research fellow at The Alfred Hospital.

Professor Thompson said one of the things he was most proud of was helping respiratory scientists to lead research in their own right in a medically-driven profession, but also impact the way pulmonary function tests are seen.

He added: “I think we are definitely making a significant difference in the way people talk about lung disease. It is horrible living as a respiratory cripple, but also just walking around with breathlessness.”

“Those things are preventable and there are lots of things we can do.”

Each year, the limbic scours the lists for specialists joining the Order of Australia honours. If you believe someone has been left off, please get in touch at [email protected]

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