|Professor David Kissane AC|
Professor David Kissane, Head of Department of Psychiatry, School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health (SCS) was made a Companion of the Order of Australia in last week’s Australia Day Awards for eminent service to psychiatry.
The prestigious Award recognises Professor Kissane’s contribution to his field, particularly psycho-oncology and palliative medicine, as an educator, researcher, author and clinician, and through executive roles with a range of national and international professional medical bodies.
Professor Kissane, who is also a Monash Health consultant psychiatrist at Monash Medical Centre and McCulloch House, has dedicated his career studying the psychological impact of cancer on patients and their family, and has built a model of family-centred care to support families at risk of poorer bereavement outcomes. He established the Australian evidence base for the benefits of cancer support groups in reducing anxiety and depression from the stress of cancer.
Professor Kissane said that perhaps more than any other illness, cancer with its complicated biology and challenging treatments can threaten patients and limit their coping. His research into demoralization, its measurement and clinical recognition, leading to the development of meaning-centred or existential psychotherapies as a treatment, is held in very high regard internationally.
“There is much that clinicians need to do to optimise coping and support people through this difficult experience of illness,” Professor Kissane said.
Throughout his career, Professor Kissane has conducted psychotherapy trials for individuals, couples, groups and families in the cancer setting.
“There is a great need to reduce fear and harness courage in dealing with cancer, to sustain intimacy and support for couples, to optimize communication for families, and foster group support for the isolated who might otherwise feel alone,” he said.
In 1996, Professor Kissane became the Foundation Chair of Palliative Medicine, University of Melbourne, establishing the Centre for Palliative Care at St Vincent’s Hospital and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute. In Victoria he established the educational programs for palliative medicine and helped develop the discipline of palliative care as a specialty.
In 2003, Professor Kissane became Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, America’s largest comprehensive cancer center. Across the next decade, he grew this Department into the world’s biggest and most comprehensive psycho-oncology program, helping to establish this specialty that focuses on the psychological and behavioural care of the cancer patient.
Author of more than 350 publications and 7 books, Professor Kissane built a communication training laboratory at Sloan-Kettering, which developed a curriculum to train cancer surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists and palliative care physicians to communicate empathically with their patients. Over 1000 clinicians were trained during his tenure.
“There is an art to talking supportively about cancer as an illness, helping patients keep a sense of mastery over their lives, sustaining hope in the face of adversity, and preparing for the worst possible outcome while fighting for either a cure or achieving control over this disease,” Professor Kissane said.
“Physicians must be healers, accompanying each person and responding to his or her needs with cultural sensitivity and insight into each patient’s unique personality.”
“Clinicians need to enjoy being with their patients and understand them fully to be an effective healer in their medical care.”
Professor Kissane said his Award brings valuable attention to the needs of psycho-oncology and palliative care, both young specialty disciplines within medicine, both needing more government funding to build appropriate services, both needing to train more clinicians in skills to deliver such care, and both needing more public attention to achieve these goals.