Influential intensive care

Professor Jamie Cooper is renowned as an ICU specialist and a university professor. He serves as Senior Specialist and Professor of Intensive Care Medicine at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne and Head of the Acute and Critical Care Division in the Faculty of Medicine at Monash University.

“As a child I thought it might be cool to be a physiotherapist like my mum, but definitely not a university scientist like my dad,” says Professor David James (Jamie) Cooper AO (BMBS ‘80).

“In the end, however, I became somewhat of both.”

Professor Cooper started learning his cues from his first year of study at Flinders University in 1974 – which was also the very first year of the Flinders Medical School.

“The staff and educational methods were enthusiastic, new, innovative and full of unexplored potential,” he remembers. “The co-location of medical school and hospital on one campus seemed a big advantage over traditional approaches.

“I grew up during my six years at Flinders, changing from an immature 17-year-old into a more sensible 23-year-old who wanted to travel and specialise in hospital-based medicine. I was always proud of being in that first year of the Flinders Medical School, and wanted to show everyone that we were good, solid doctors out in the real world.”

Lessons learned at Flinders readied Professor Cooper for a lifetime at the forefront of medical advances. “We learnt that medicine would always be constantly changing, and over the next 40 years it certainly has. We learnt how to keep searching for information, which likely influenced my choice to combine clinical research with my clinical career – which eventually led to NHMRC Fellowships, large trial leadership, and then Directorship of the ANZ Intensive Care Research Centre.”

Humbled to have been made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2017 for his distinguished service to intensive care medicine, Professor Cooper says that award reflected his persistence in leading a randomised trial of a neurosurgical operation over eight years for ICU patients with head injury.

“The trial found that surgery was great at decreasing brain pressure, but poor at improving patient outcomes. Indeed, head injury patients in the trial recovered better in the long term, after medical intensive care alone. There was a global impact, lots of controversy and now better neurosurgical planning for head injury patients going forward.”

The sum of Professor Cooper’s contributions to patient care, organisational change, research and advancements in knowledge are exceptional in Australian medicine, and his research work has been prolific. He has published 350 journal papers and chapters and received $73 million in research funding, which has delivered life-changing results for seriously ill patients and resulted in significant savings to the Australian health care system.

His work will continue, as he mentors the next generation of academic leaders in Intensive Care.

“Some time in the next five years I’ll retire and reflect back on the remarkable changes that have occurred in my working lifetime – but until then, I’ll stay as an active intensive care doctor, treating patients in the ICU.”

Professor Jamie Cooper was awarded a 2020 Convocation Medal for his outstanding contribution to national and international intensive care medicine, particularly in the field of traumatic brain injury. Read more about the Flinders University Alumni Awards

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