Professor Stewart Dunn

BA, PhD, MPH
Professor of Psychological Medicine (conjoint), Disciplines of Medicine and Psychiatry, Sydney Medical School and Northern Sydney Local Health District
Associate Dean (Admissions), Sydney Medical School
Director, Pam McLean Centre, Northern Clinical School

Telephone +61 2 9926 4694
Fax +61 2 9926 6188

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Biographical details

Professor Stewart Dunn is a medical psychologist specialising in the psychological care of cancer patients and their families and an academic with research and teaching interests in the psychology of medical illness, and doctor-patient communication. He has published widely on these subjects. His early research in the 1980s (with Professor John Turtle) debunked many long-held myths about diabetes patients. He developed the extensively-cited Diabetes ATT39 scale measuring emotional adjustment in diabetic patients, which has been translated into several languages. His later (ongoing) research on psychological issues faced by cancer patients (in collaboration with Professors Martin Tattersall, Alan Coates and Phyllis Butow) has been instrumental in building the evidence base for patient-centred consultations. Additionally, as Associate Dean (Admissions) he helps tailor Sydney Medical School’s student intake toward evidence-based communication needs of the medical profession. Professor Dunn is founder and Director of the Pam McLean Centre, a not-for-profit educational organisation and a leading provider of evidence-based Communications Skills Training for medical students, and medical, nursing and allied health staff in Australasia. Using actor-based workshops underpinned by rigorous research, the Centre delivers training to health professionals across Australia, New Zealand and Europe, on diverse subjects such as breaking bad news, dealing with bad news, open disclosure around medical errors, etc about which health professionals are often ill-prepared. “I am passionate about translational research and teaching”, says Professor Dunn. “I conduct research that aims to improve patients’ wellbeing and we use our results along with other researchers’ findings, to develop training programs that equip medical professionals with the skills to tackle difficult real world issues while delivering the best possible patient care”. Additionally, recognising the inextricable link between doctors’ psychological wellbeing and optimal patient care, Professor Dunn provides psychological counselling to medical staff. His achievements have seen him receive nine research travel awards and seven teaching awards.

Research interests

Professor Dunn has conducted pioneering studies (in collaboration with Professors Martin Tattersall, Alan Coates and Phyllis Butow) on doctor-patient communication, especially in cancer patients and their families. He also studies the psychology of medical illness. Studies have included testing strategies to improve patient recall of information received during consultations, e.g. providing prompt sheets to patients and having the doctor address the questions on the sheets at the start of the consultation, doubled the rates of patient recall and shortened the consultation time. Professor Dunn's past research also has explored psychological interventions to improve survival and quality of life in melanoma patients and the role of psychosocial variables in the diagnosis and outcome of breast cancer. Additionally, the team has evaluated communication strategies to help promote realistic optimism in cancer patients.

His work has had a strong impact on clinical practice, contributing to the body of evidence enabling medical professionals to better meet the psychological needs of cancer patients and their families. E.g. one study showed tape-recorded consultations with oncologists help facilitate family discussion, particularly with a spouse/partner reluctant to discuss cancer and its impact on the family. Professor Dunn’s research on the factors that contribute to patient distress helped drive a major change in the tone of the doctor-patient therapeutic relationship, promoting the formation of strong human relationships while providing patients with the information needed to make decisions best suited to their circumstances.

More recent studies have explored stress and coping responses in doctors breaking bad news. He has collaborated in a randomised controlled trial of structured Intervention to facilitate end-of-life decisions in patients with advanced cancer, and conducted studies aimed at understanding and managing doctors’ delivery style when breaking bad news. The results of this research are used to help develop training programs for medical students, doctors and other health care professionals. Professor Dunn also supervises research projects relating to the process of medical student admissions and the use of simulation in medical education.

Awards and honours

2013 - Vice‑Chancellor’s Award for Support of the Student Experience, University of Sydney

2012 - Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney, Outstanding Teaching Award

2009 - PaLMS Excellence in Clinical Teaching Award, Sydney Medical School Northern

2005 - Faculty of Medicine, University of Sydney, Outstanding Teaching Award

2000 - Northern Clinical School Excellence in Teaching Award, Faculty of Medicine

1999 - Kuring-Gai District Medical Association Excellence in Teaching Award

1999 - Northern Clinical School Excellence in Teaching Award, Faculty of Medicine

1996 - NSW State Cancer Council Travel Grant

1995 - Faculty of Medicine Thomas and Ethel Mary Ewing Travelling Fellowship

1984 - Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship

1973 - University Union Literary Competition Poetry Prize

Selected grants

2006

  • Strengthen Cancer Care initiative - Infrastructure Support for Clinical Trials Program (Psycho-Oncology Cooperative Research Group); Butow P, Mason C, King M, Solomon M, Stockler M, Tattersall M, Meiser B, Kelly B, White K, Meiser B, King M, Dunn S, Girgis A; Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing/Strengthening Support For Cancer Care.

2005

  • NSW psycho-oncology cooperative research group; Solomon M, Butow P, Stockler M, Dunn S, Meiser B, Tattersall M, White K, King M, Meiser B, Girgis A, Kelly B, Mason C, King M; Cancer Institute New South Wales/Research Grants Program - Category 3.

2004

  • The role of psychosocial variables in the diagnosis and outcome of breast cancer; Tennant C, Kossoff M, Dunn S, Smith R; National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)/Project Grants.

2001

  • Psychological medicine research; Dunn S; Medicine Research/Medicine Grant Scheme.

2000

  • Energy expenditure and substrate utilisation in anorexia nervosa: effect of weight gain; Russell J, Baur L, Beumont P, Dunn S; National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)/Project Grants.
  • The meaning and measurment of compliance with treatment guidelines in asthma management; Dunn S, Woolcock A, Toelle B; Public Health Research and Development Committee/Research Project Grants.
  • Cancer patient education and role modelling for clinical decisions; Tattersall M, Butow P, Levi J, Dunn S; National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)/Project Grants.
  • Psychological interventions to improve survival and quality of life in melanoma patients; Dunn S, Coats A, Butow P; National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)/Project Grants.

Selected publications

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Journals

  • Shaw, J., Brown, R., Dunn, S. (2013). A qualitative study of stress and coping responses in doctors breaking bad news. Patient Education and Counseling, 91(2), 243-248. [More Information]
  • Shaw, J., Brown, R., Heinrich, P., Dunn, S. (2013). Doctors' experience of stress during simulated bad news consultations. Patient Education and Counseling, 93(2), 203-208. [More Information]
  • Nisbet, G., Lincoln, M., Dunn, S. (2013). Informal interprofessional learning: an untapped opportunity for learning and change within the workplace. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 27(6), 469-475. [More Information]
  • Tiller, D., O'Mara, D., Rothnie, I., Dunn, S., Lee, L., Roberts, C. (2013). Internet-based multiple mini-interviews for candidate selection for graduate entry programmes. Medical Education, 48(8), 801-810. [More Information]
  • Stein, R., Sharpe, L., Bell, M., Boyle, F., Dunn, S., Clarke, S. (2013). Randomized Controlled Trial of a Structured Intervention to Facilitate End-of-Life Decision Making in Patients With Advanced Cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 31(27), 3403-3410. [More Information]
  • Shaw, J., Dunn, S., Heinrich, P. (2012). Managing the delivery of bad news: An in-depth analysis of doctors' delivery style. Patient Education and Counseling, 87(2), 186-192. [More Information]
  • Tolerton, S., Shaw, J., O'Reilly, A., Dunn, S., Boyle, F. (2011). Exploring consent to randomized placebo-controlled clinical trials in oncology. Asia-Pacific Journal of Clinical Oncology, 7(3), 300-306. [More Information]
  • Livingston, P., White, V., Hayman, J., Maunsell, E., Dunn, S., Hill, D. (2010). The psychological impact of a specialist referral and telephone intervention on male cancer patients: a randomised controlled trial. Psycho-Oncology: journal of the psychological, social and behavioral dimensions of cancer, 19(6), 617-625. [More Information]
  • Brown, R., Dunn, S., Byrnes, K., Morris, R., Heinrich, P., Shaw, J. (2009). Doctors' stress responses and poor communication performance in simulated bad-news consultations. Academic Medicine, 84(11), 1595-1602. [More Information]
  • Brown, R., Valpiani, E., Tennant, C., Dunn, S., Sharrock, M., Hodgkinson, S., Pollard, J. (2009). Longitudinal assessment of anxiety, depression, and fatigue in people with multiple sclerosis. Psychology and Psychotherapy, 82(1), 41-56. [More Information]
  • Iedema, R., Jorm, C., Wakefield, J., Ryan, C., Dunn, S. (2008). Practising Open Disclosure: clinical incident communication and systems improvement. Sociology of health & illness, 31, 262-77. [More Information]
  • Brown, R., Tennant, C., Sharrock, M., Hodgkinson, S., Dunn, S., Pollard, J. (2006). Relationship between stress and relapse in multiple sclerosis: part I. Important features. Multiple Sclerosis: clinical and laboratory research, 12(4), 453-464.
  • Brown, R., Tennant, C., Sharrock, M., Hodgkinson, S., Dunn, S., Pollard, J. (2006). Relationship between stress and relapse in multiple sclerosis: part II. Direct and indirect relationships. Multiple Sclerosis: clinical and laboratory research, 12(4), 465-475.
  • Dunn, S. (2005). A conceptual framework for patient professional communication: An application to the cancer context. Psycho-Oncology: journal of the psychological, social and behavioral dimensions of cancer, 14(10), 810-811. [More Information]
  • Brown, R., Tennant, C., Dunn, S., Pollard, J. (2005). A review of stress-relapse interactions in multiple sclerosis: important features and stress-mediating and -moderating variables. Multiple Sclerosis: clinical and laboratory research, 11(4), 477-84. [More Information]
  • Dunn, S. (2005). Commentary on: A conceptual framework for patient-professional communication: An application to the cancer context. Psycho-Oncology: journal of the psychological, social and behavioral dimensions of cancer, 14, 810-811.
  • Dunn, S. (2005). Commentary on: Self-efficacy, coping, and difficulties interacting with health care professionals among women living with breast cancer in rural communities. Psycho-Oncology: journal of the psychological, social and behavioral dimensions of cancer, 14, 913-914.
  • Boyle, F., Robinson, E., Dunn, S., Heinrich, P. (2005). Multidisciplinary Care in Cancer: The Fellowship of the Ring. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 23(4), 916-920. [More Information]
  • Meiser, B., Dunn, S., Dixon, J., Powell, L. (2005). Psychological adjustment and knowledge about hereditary hemochromatosis in a clinic-based sample: a prospective study. Journal of Genetic Counseling, 14(6), 453-63. [More Information]
  • Dunn, S. (2005). Self-efficacy, coping, and difficulties interacting with health care professionals among women living with breast cancer in rural communities. Psycho-Oncology: journal of the psychological, social and behavioral dimensions of cancer, 14(10), 913-914. [More Information]
  • Boyle, F., Dunn, S., Robinson, E., Heinrich, P. (2004). Cancer: Communicating In The Team Game. ANZ Journal of Surgery, 74(6), 477-481.
  • Fraenkel, G., Comaish, I., Kelly, M., Dunn, S., Webber, S., Rogers, C., Lawless, M., Byth Wilson, K., Sutton, G. (2004). Development Of A Questionnaire To Assess Subjective Vision Score In Myopes Seeking Refractive Surgery. Journal of Refractive Surgery, 20(1), 10-19.
  • Dunn, S. (2003). Communication breakdown. Australian Doctor, 11, 1-1.
  • Boyle, F., Dunn, S., Riches, J. (2003). More than one way to foster communication skills for medical oncology fellows: a national program in Australia. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 11.
  • Potter, V., Wiseman, C., Dunn, S., Boyle, F. (2003). Patient barriers to optimal cancer pain control. Psycho-Oncology: journal of the psychological, social and behavioral dimensions of cancer, 12(2), 153-160. [More Information]
  • Schofield, P., Butow, P., Thompson, J., Tattersall, M., Beeney, L., Dunn, S. (2003). Psychological responses of patients receiving a diagnosis of cancer. Annals of Oncology, 14, 48-56.
  • Brown, R., Butow, P., Henman, M., Dunn, S., Boyle, F., Tattersall, M. (2002). Responding to the active and passive patient: flexibility is the key. Health Expectations, 5(3), 236-245.
  • MacCormack, T., Simonian, J., Lim, J., Butow, P., Redmond, D., Roets, D., Dunn, S. (2001). 'Someone who cares:' A qualitative investigation of cancer patients' experiences of psychotherapy. Psycho-Oncology: journal of the psychological, social and behavioral dimensions of cancer, 10(1), 52-65.
  • Price, M., Tennant, C., Smith, R., Butow, P., Kennedy, S., Kossoff, M., Dunn, S. (2001). The role of psychosocial factors in the development of breast carcinoma: Part I - The cancer prone personality. Cancer, 91(4), 679-685.

2013

  • Shaw, J., Brown, R., Dunn, S. (2013). A qualitative study of stress and coping responses in doctors breaking bad news. Patient Education and Counseling, 91(2), 243-248. [More Information]
  • Shaw, J., Brown, R., Heinrich, P., Dunn, S. (2013). Doctors' experience of stress during simulated bad news consultations. Patient Education and Counseling, 93(2), 203-208. [More Information]
  • Nisbet, G., Lincoln, M., Dunn, S. (2013). Informal interprofessional learning: an untapped opportunity for learning and change within the workplace. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 27(6), 469-475. [More Information]
  • Tiller, D., O'Mara, D., Rothnie, I., Dunn, S., Lee, L., Roberts, C. (2013). Internet-based multiple mini-interviews for candidate selection for graduate entry programmes. Medical Education, 48(8), 801-810. [More Information]
  • Stein, R., Sharpe, L., Bell, M., Boyle, F., Dunn, S., Clarke, S. (2013). Randomized Controlled Trial of a Structured Intervention to Facilitate End-of-Life Decision Making in Patients With Advanced Cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 31(27), 3403-3410. [More Information]

2012

  • Shaw, J., Dunn, S., Heinrich, P. (2012). Managing the delivery of bad news: An in-depth analysis of doctors' delivery style. Patient Education and Counseling, 87(2), 186-192. [More Information]

2011

  • Tolerton, S., Shaw, J., O'Reilly, A., Dunn, S., Boyle, F. (2011). Exploring consent to randomized placebo-controlled clinical trials in oncology. Asia-Pacific Journal of Clinical Oncology, 7(3), 300-306. [More Information]

2010

  • Livingston, P., White, V., Hayman, J., Maunsell, E., Dunn, S., Hill, D. (2010). The psychological impact of a specialist referral and telephone intervention on male cancer patients: a randomised controlled trial. Psycho-Oncology: journal of the psychological, social and behavioral dimensions of cancer, 19(6), 617-625. [More Information]

2009

  • Brown, R., Dunn, S., Byrnes, K., Morris, R., Heinrich, P., Shaw, J. (2009). Doctors' stress responses and poor communication performance in simulated bad-news consultations. Academic Medicine, 84(11), 1595-1602. [More Information]
  • Brown, R., Valpiani, E., Tennant, C., Dunn, S., Sharrock, M., Hodgkinson, S., Pollard, J. (2009). Longitudinal assessment of anxiety, depression, and fatigue in people with multiple sclerosis. Psychology and Psychotherapy, 82(1), 41-56. [More Information]

2008

  • Iedema, R., Jorm, C., Wakefield, J., Ryan, C., Dunn, S. (2008). Practising Open Disclosure: clinical incident communication and systems improvement. Sociology of health & illness, 31, 262-77. [More Information]

2006

  • Brown, R., Tennant, C., Sharrock, M., Hodgkinson, S., Dunn, S., Pollard, J. (2006). Relationship between stress and relapse in multiple sclerosis: part I. Important features. Multiple Sclerosis: clinical and laboratory research, 12(4), 453-464.
  • Brown, R., Tennant, C., Sharrock, M., Hodgkinson, S., Dunn, S., Pollard, J. (2006). Relationship between stress and relapse in multiple sclerosis: part II. Direct and indirect relationships. Multiple Sclerosis: clinical and laboratory research, 12(4), 465-475.

2005

  • Dunn, S. (2005). A conceptual framework for patient professional communication: An application to the cancer context. Psycho-Oncology: journal of the psychological, social and behavioral dimensions of cancer, 14(10), 810-811. [More Information]
  • Brown, R., Tennant, C., Dunn, S., Pollard, J. (2005). A review of stress-relapse interactions in multiple sclerosis: important features and stress-mediating and -moderating variables. Multiple Sclerosis: clinical and laboratory research, 11(4), 477-84. [More Information]
  • Dunn, S. (2005). Commentary on: A conceptual framework for patient-professional communication: An application to the cancer context. Psycho-Oncology: journal of the psychological, social and behavioral dimensions of cancer, 14, 810-811.
  • Dunn, S. (2005). Commentary on: Self-efficacy, coping, and difficulties interacting with health care professionals among women living with breast cancer in rural communities. Psycho-Oncology: journal of the psychological, social and behavioral dimensions of cancer, 14, 913-914.
  • Boyle, F., Robinson, E., Dunn, S., Heinrich, P. (2005). Multidisciplinary Care in Cancer: The Fellowship of the Ring. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 23(4), 916-920. [More Information]
  • Meiser, B., Dunn, S., Dixon, J., Powell, L. (2005). Psychological adjustment and knowledge about hereditary hemochromatosis in a clinic-based sample: a prospective study. Journal of Genetic Counseling, 14(6), 453-63. [More Information]
  • Dunn, S. (2005). Self-efficacy, coping, and difficulties interacting with health care professionals among women living with breast cancer in rural communities. Psycho-Oncology: journal of the psychological, social and behavioral dimensions of cancer, 14(10), 913-914. [More Information]

2004

  • Boyle, F., Dunn, S., Robinson, E., Heinrich, P. (2004). Cancer: Communicating In The Team Game. ANZ Journal of Surgery, 74(6), 477-481.
  • Fraenkel, G., Comaish, I., Kelly, M., Dunn, S., Webber, S., Rogers, C., Lawless, M., Byth Wilson, K., Sutton, G. (2004). Development Of A Questionnaire To Assess Subjective Vision Score In Myopes Seeking Refractive Surgery. Journal of Refractive Surgery, 20(1), 10-19.

2003

  • Dunn, S. (2003). Communication breakdown. Australian Doctor, 11, 1-1.
  • Boyle, F., Dunn, S., Riches, J. (2003). More than one way to foster communication skills for medical oncology fellows: a national program in Australia. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 11.
  • Potter, V., Wiseman, C., Dunn, S., Boyle, F. (2003). Patient barriers to optimal cancer pain control. Psycho-Oncology: journal of the psychological, social and behavioral dimensions of cancer, 12(2), 153-160. [More Information]
  • Schofield, P., Butow, P., Thompson, J., Tattersall, M., Beeney, L., Dunn, S. (2003). Psychological responses of patients receiving a diagnosis of cancer. Annals of Oncology, 14, 48-56.

2002

  • Brown, R., Butow, P., Henman, M., Dunn, S., Boyle, F., Tattersall, M. (2002). Responding to the active and passive patient: flexibility is the key. Health Expectations, 5(3), 236-245.

2001

  • MacCormack, T., Simonian, J., Lim, J., Butow, P., Redmond, D., Roets, D., Dunn, S. (2001). 'Someone who cares:' A qualitative investigation of cancer patients' experiences of psychotherapy. Psycho-Oncology: journal of the psychological, social and behavioral dimensions of cancer, 10(1), 52-65.
  • Price, M., Tennant, C., Smith, R., Butow, P., Kennedy, S., Kossoff, M., Dunn, S. (2001). The role of psychosocial factors in the development of breast carcinoma: Part I - The cancer prone personality. Cancer, 91(4), 679-685.

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