Intensive Care Medicine

Head of Discipline
Professor Anthony McLean
Nepean Hospital

Reflecting the specialisation of medical practice involving care of critically ill patients, including provision of life support technology and management of serious underlying organ failure, Intensive Care Medicine developed as an independent medical specialty in the latter part of the 20th century. In Australia and New Zealand there is now a College of Intensive Care Medicine responsible for training and certification of intensivists. This evolution at a specialist level has further defined the practice boundaries of the specialty and also emphasised the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to the more complex and unwell patients found in a hospital. The management of such patients requires a coordinated one closely involving nursing and paramedical colleagues at the bedside. In addition, complex family and ethical issues are encountered in daily practice. An example to illustrate this point is the delicate coordination involved in managing the process of organ donation in a highly charged emotional setting.

The Discipline of Intensive Care Medicine is a recent creation within the Sydney Medical School, with the overall objective of introducing the student to a rich experiential and teaching environment in a highly distinctive area of medical practice. During the Stage 3 Critical Care Term the student spends 2 weeks in Intensive Care Medicine. The student is exposed to the workings of a doctor-led multidisciplinary team caring for challenging patients, understanding how positive interactions with other medical teams are vital to good patient care. He, or she, will experience the application of physiological principles, in addition to learning how to interpret and integrate results from multiple investigations in the diagnosis and management of the patient across a broad range of pathological conditions such as severe trauma, abdominal sepsis, H1N1 virus induced respiratory failure in a pregnant woman and cerebral haemorrhage to name a few.

Grouping Intensive Care Medicine with the related ‘critical care’ specialties of Emergency Medicine and Anaesthetics in the Stage 3 Critical Care Term has advantages for the student, because although each Discipline has its own distinctive learning objectives, there are areas of overlap - an example being securing a patent airway in the acute setting. Combined with aspects of acute surgery, the exposure to these different specialties collectively focuses the student’s mind on how to assess and manage a deteriorating patient rapidly and effectively.

Although Evidence Based Medicine is regularly applied in the practice of Intensive Care Medicine, the reality is that for many pathological conditions there is an absence of meaningful information on the best treatment in that specific situation. As a consequence, research is a regular part of most major Intensive Care Units in Australia. A number of ground breaking multicenter trials studies, involving many millions of dollars in funding from NHMRC and other funding bodies, have been undertaken and are also currently in progress. These have resulted in multiple publications in prestigious medical journals over the past few years. A number of the Intensive Care Units in the different clinical schools have active local research programs and encourage interested students to undertake formal research activities such as Honours, Masters or a PhD. An interested student is advised to contact the supervisor at their clinical school for further information.

Contact details

Professor Anthony McLean
Head of Discipline

Discipline of Intensive Care Medicine
Nepean Hospital
PO Box 63
Penrith NSW 2751

Phone: +61 2 4734 2490
Fax: +61 2 4734 3134

Clinical School representatives: