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Clinical Pharmacologist Professor Nick Buckley awarded RPA's highest honour

RPA Foundation Research Medal

August 2019

Clinical Pharmacologist Professor Nick Buckley awarded RPA's highest honour

Clinical Pharmacologist Professor Nick Buckley awarded RPA's highest honour

When Nick Buckley was a teenager, he knew two things. He did not want to be a doctor. And he definitely did not want to be a medical researcher.

Today, he was awarded one of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital’s highest honours for doctors and medical researchers: the 2019 RPA Foundation Research Medal, bestowed for his outstanding contribution and dedication to toxicology and pharmacology research over recent decades.

“My father was a cell biology researcher and a doctor and, as a teenager, I thought it was a daggy, boring thing to do,” Professor Buckley said.

“But once I started seeing patients, and asking questions it inevitably led to interesting research and I have turned into a research contrarian.”

Professor Buckley, 58, is a senior staff specialist in clinical pharmacology and toxicology at RPA, and has contributed to more than 100 publications in the past five years, focusing on translational clinical and epidemiological toxicology research.

He is a professor of clinical pharmacology at the University of Sydney, a consultant clinical toxicologist with the NSW Poisons Information Centre, an adjunct professor in medicine at the University of NSW and holds visiting positions at two universities in Sri Lanka.

In his current role, he manages patients admitted to RPA due to poisoning, as part of a dedicated clinical toxicology service. But he has plenty of other strings to his bow.

He has been instrumental in helping write Australian therapeutic guidelines on toxicology and has collaborated to create a computerised textbook and interactive education program on poisoning. He is Deputy Editor of Clinical Toxicology, the leading international journal on human poisoning. He also works with the South Asian Clinical Toxicology Research Collaboration on research into pesticides and snake bites. Furthermore, he has supervised scores of students.

So what are his tips for budding researchers?

“The key to research is to enjoy it, to appreciate that it’s one of the best jobs in the world. Surround yourself with interesting, inquiring and engaged people and your career will be productive and enjoyable.”

The RPA Medal comes with $50,000 in prize money, which Professor Buckley plans to spend exploring methods to reduce poisoning and suicide, by integrating ‘big data’ from state and Federal levels to get a clearer picture of events surrounding poisonings, for example medication patterns of use, before and after.

That would involve linking NSW toxicology treatment centre and Poisons Information Centre data with NSW Admitted Patient Data, Emergency Department Data, NSW Ambulance, road trauma, and NSW Cause of Death data collections. The team will then link to national data, in particular on deaths, consultations and prescription medicines. This will be the first time such a comprehensive linkage on poisonings has been performed in Australia, and one of only a few such projects in the world.

“We can link patients who have been brought into hospital after an overdose to Federal data and see that they went to the doctor the same day and got the medicine on which they overdosed, then we can see there may have been planning it when they saw the doctor and how often there may have been an opportunity for medical intervention. We can also see if specialist services for the management of self-poisoned patients (like at RPA) lead to different long-term outcomes. This kind of project has many real world implications, by helping policy makers and doctors make better informed decisions.”

And what does Professor Buckley’s dad think of his highly successful career as a medical researcher? “He’s happy for me, but he’s still pretty busy doing his own research.”

This year is the 20th anniversary of the RPA Foundation Research Medal. The award was judged by three previous recipients: Professor Steve Chadban, Professor David Handelsman AO and Professor Warwick Britton AO.

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