Tributes paid to Professor Martin Tattersall

By Michael Woodhead

1 Sep 2020

Tributes are flowing from Australia and around the world to honour the “giant of medical oncology” Professor Martin Tattersall, who died on Sunday 30 August 2020, at his home in Sydney.

Professor Tattersall has been described as one of the founders of medical oncology in Australia, and was appointed Professor of Cancer Medicine at the University of Sydney in 1977, when he emigrated from the UK.

He practised at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney and was an admired and widely respected mentor to many up-and coming oncologists over the last few decades.

As well as being active in research, he held many other roles including advisor to Cancer Council Australia, Chairman of the TGA’s Australian Drug Evaluation Committee (ADEC) and member of the WHO Cancer Committee.

Professor Tattersall was one of the early presidents of COSA (1981-1983), which in a statement said that he would be “well known to many, and if you hadn’t met him personally we are sure his work would have impacted you.”

“Martin’s career began when Medical Oncology was a new discipline – he and his and fellow pioneers crafted this field throughout their lives. They oversaw enormous gains in cancer survival through their dedication to clinical trials to improve chemotherapy outcomes.

“Martin was always focused on improving the patient experience. He was patient-centred before this term was invented. His research into ways to improve clear, empathic and empowering communication between doctor and patient was world-leading.”

Much of his research focused on ways to improve communication between doctors and patients and improve shared decision making. His work pioneered the development of question prompt lists for cancer patients when they see doctors, and promoted the use of audiotapes to study communication in cancer and palliative care consultations.

Professor Tattersall was Co-Director of the Centre for Medical Psychology & Evidence-based Decision-making (CeMPED) at the University of Sydney

COSA quoted one of his closest colleagues, Professor Phyllis Butow as saying: “Martin was a gentleman in the true sense of the word. He was respectful, gentle and humble, inclusive of all.”

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