USYD pharmacist: how I became a senior poisons specialist

Rose Cairns is a senior poisons specialist and research associate
Rose Cairns is an early-career researcher who is making her mark across the globe as a poisons specialist.

Rose Cairns is a Research Associate in clinical pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Sydney. As well as the Senior Poisons Specialist at the NSW Poisons Information Centre at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead.

Growing up on the South Coast of NSW, Rose remembers being interested in the mechanisms that make medicines work. She knew early on that she wanted to study pharmacy and the University of Sydney School of Pharmacy’s reputation made it an easy choice.

Continuing into research after completing her Bachelor of Pharmacy wasn’t something that Rose had planned. However, she was inspired to do so after completing her honours year after which she continued into a PhD.

Rose’s PhD focused on metabolism and energy balance and upon completion she accepted a position as a poisons specialist at the NSW Poisons Information Centre.

Rose spends her days doing a mixture of clinical and research work. On a clinical day, she can be found dealing with plant exposures, snake bites, spider bites, stings or medicine and chemical poison cases. On a research day, she spends her time investigating current clinical toxicology research in order to prevent poisonings and improve management of poisons patients in hospitals.

Image of Rose in pharmacy with methotrexate drug

Rose with the drug methotrexate.

In 2016 Rose’s research revealed an increase in dosing errors of prescription drug methotrexate was causing severe toxicity and death – the oral prescription drug, used to treat arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease was commonly taken daily instead of weekly.

Rose’s research was published in the Medical Journal of Australia and resulted in the Therapeutic Goods Administration review of methotrexate safety. Changes to packaging, product information and consumer information leaflets will be implemented due to the research.

Now an expert in the poisons field, Rose has presented at poisons conferences in Malta, Switzerland, Spain, Singapore, Sri Lanka, USA and Canada. She is keen to continue her research but would also like to move into academic teaching and supervision of honours and PhD students.

Since this article was published Rose has returned to the Sydney Pharmacy School as a lecturer.

Rose's career timeline

  • 19/11/2010
    Pharmacy and Bank Building

    Bachelor of Pharmacy

    Graduated BPharm with first class honours and was presented with the University medal
  • 04/07/2011
    Pharmacy Lecture Theatre door

    Academic tutor

    Commenced lecturing, tutoring and laboratory demonstrating at the University of Sydney School of Pharmacy
  • 14/01/2015
    Lab coats hanging

    Doctor of Philosophy (Pharmacy)

    Completed PhD on the role of Annexin A6 in hepatic lipid and glucose homeostasis
  • 03/02/2015
    Edward Ford Building

    Research associate

    Commenced at the University of Sydney School of Medicine as a research associate in the clinical pharmacology and toxicology research group
  • 22/10/2014
    Poisonous mushroom

    Senior poisons specialist

    Commenced at the NSW Poisons Centre as a senior poisons specialist at the Children's Hospital at Westmead
2 July 2018