Burgess, Margaret

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MB BS 1961 MD 1970

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Margaret Burgess has made an outstanding contribution to Paediatrics and Child Health in Australia, particularly in the fields of immunisation, infectious diseases and teratology, and has been the initiator of specialised services for children. She was a pioneer in research and clinical trials of rubella vaccines in Australia.

Margaret graduated in 1961 with a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery from the University of Sydney and was distinguished by gaining first place among the women candidates and first place in Surgery. She was awarded a Doctorate of Medicine by the University of Sydney in 1971 and was elected as a Foundation Fellow of the Australian Faculty of Public Health Medicine in 1991. Margaret has also been a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians since 1972. She is currently Professor of Paediatrics and Preventive Medicine at the University of Sydney and the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, Westmead and is immediate past-Director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance of Vaccine Preventable Diseases.

Margaret has a distinguished record in research. In the 1960s she established an international reputation through publication of studies relating to congenital rubella syndrome. In the group of children studied, she described renal artery stenosis leading to systemic arterial hypertension; the association between congenital rubella and diabetes mellitus; and the role of extended persistence of rubella virus in the postnatal development of cataracts. Subsequent follow-up studies of this cohort for up to 50 years confirmed a high prevalence of diabetes mellitus the survivors. In the 1970s, she conducted the first clinical trials of rubella vaccines in Australia.

In the 1980s Margaret took up a Staff Specialist appointment in paediatric oncology, a field in which she also made significant research contributions. These included documenting the high prevalence of both growth failure and growth hormone deficiency in children who had been treated for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, and the high morbidity and mortality associated with varicella-zoster infection in paediatric oncology patients with immunosuppression.

In the 1990s she returned to research in the area of immunisation, conducting large community-based studies on hepatitis B vaccination and assisting the NHMRC in revising the National Childhood Immunisation Schedule. She successfully tendered for the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance of Vaccine Preventable Diseases (NCIRS) and was Director of that unit until 2005. In that role Margaret was involved in the development of the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register, and initiated a wide program of research around vaccination and vaccine-preventable diseases, including varicella zoster, rotavirus, measles, and pertussis.

Margaret is an excellent communicator, and is in high demand nationally and internationally as a guest speaker. She teaches both undergraduates and graduates in the health professions, and has supervised many post graduate students progressing towards higher degrees. She has published two books, 11 book chapters and nearly 200 original peer-review papers, in addition to numerous invited contributions, reports and conference papers. Many of these works have been highly influential both on clinical practice and policy development. She has been highly successful in attracting large grants to support her research too, the budget for the NCIRS being in excess of $A1 million per year.

Margaret has also contributed to the profession at large, serving on numerous committees for the University of Sydney, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), the Australian College of Paediatrics, the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases, the Paediatric Research Society of Australia and New Zealand and the Teratology Society.

Through the media and other activities, she is well known to the community. She is Patron of the NSW Deaf Children’s Association and member of the working party that planned and built the Shepherd Centre for the deaf. She is media spokesperson for a number of organisations advocating for handicapped children and adults.

In recognition for her contributions, she was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal for services to the community in 1997, the Order of Australia in 2003, and the RACP Howard Williams Medal in 2006.

Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Burgess, Margaret. Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.

An alternate version appears in: Mellor, L. 150 Years, 150 Firsts: The People of the Faculty of Medicine (2006) Sydney, Sydney University Press.