2009 Sidney Sax Medallist - Professor Stephen Leeder



Steve is well-known for his outstanding work, particularly his contribution to health knowledge and systems and to innovative medical education.

Medical Education

His first opportunity in the area of medical education came through the great Newcastle University experiment led by Professor David Maddison, who had been appointed Foundation Dean and who became a great friend and mentor of Steve’s.

He attracted Steve from McMaster University in Canada to join the fledgling Faculty of Medicine at Newcastle.

Steve was instrumental in developing an assessment system for the Medical Faculty that encouraged cooperation between students rather than competition, and contributed to changes in assessment in medical courses throughout the country.

From 1976 to 1985, as Foundation Professor of Community Medicine, Steve contributed to the Faculty’s Education Program. He was instrumental in promoting the development of Community Medicine within the Faculty as well as throughout the Hunter Valley region, working through the University and the NSW Department of Health.

Health knowledge and systems

Steve has also made a significant contribution to health knowledge and systems through his own research across two critically important health areas – both as a physician and an epidemiologist.

He has undertaken significant research into respiratory disease, especially asthma, and cardiovascular disease. His focus has been on the epidemiology of heart disease and the personal, social and economic impact and burden of coronary vascular disease on sufferers and their communities.

Steve has contributed to this area nationally and internationally through involvement in projects like the World Health Organisation’s MONICA project which measured trends in coronary heart disease and mortality in many countries.

He successfully attracted Rockefeller Foundation funding to Newcastle University and was Director of the Rockefeller Asian and Pacific Centre for Clinical Epidemiology which trained epidemiologists from Australia and neighbouring countries.


Steve was a moving force in the evolution of the Public Health Association of Australia, which developed from the Australian and New Zealand Association for Epidemiology and Research in Community Health Association of the 1970s.

During the time when Steve was National President, the Public Health Association made an outstanding contribution to national health issues, including supporting the preservation of Medicare when it was under threat in the early years of the Howard government.

He was also instrumental in establishing the Australasian Epidemiological Association and headed it from 1991 to 1995.

Community advocate

When Steve moved to Westmead Hospital in 1985 as head of the Department of Community Medicine and Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine, he began a long association with the people of Western Sydney. In his view, these are people who are often overlooked by their more influential neighbours in Central and Eastern Sydney.

To the surprise of his Sydney University and Hospital medical colleagues, he surfaced as a member of the Area Health Board of the Western Sydney Area Health Service, not wearing either of those hats, but as Community Representative. He had earned this because he lived at Westmead.

In this position, he was able to encourage improvement in health services through his research, his lifelong passion for equity and his interest in prevention. Added to this was his vast experience in health services from a medical, academic and administrative perspective. He has chaired the Human Research Ethics Committee for that area continuously since 1992.


Steve does research, writes, speaks out, advises, trains and puts people in touch with each other across discipline boundaries in the name of better health for the people of Australia.

Throughout his time at Newcastle, and then in Sydney, Steve fought for many health issues through his journalism and radio and television appearances. He was a regular contributor to the Newcastle Herald, as well as the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, the Medical Journal of Australia, Australian Doctor and Australian Medicine as well as many other journals.

He has written in many different settings, spoken on countless television and radio programs, championing an improved health system for everyone but especially for the disadvantaged in the community.

This has required half a lifetime of instant availability for the media - Steve learnt early on the importance of the timely response and the sound bite.

You may be surprised to learn that Steve’s friends believe he would like to have been a journalist and poet. His contributions to the Newcastle Herald included many poems and independent book reviews, and not just articles on health or wider medical political issues.

National committees and organisations

Steve was able to make a significant national impact on the health of Australians through his long involvement with national organizations like the National Health and Medical Research Council and its associated bodies, promoting substantial research efforts with energy and common sense.

He has been chairman or member of numerous advisory councils and committees contributing on a wide range of health issues at national, state and regional levels for more than 30 years.

As a member of the Australian Better Health Commission from 1984 to 1986, he was a champion of expert committees which gave authoritative information and advice in areas like nutrition and prevention of injuries. He was involved in establishing targets for health and health promotion, some of which have recently been updated in government reports released this year.

He has been a member of advisory committees to State Health Ministers across the field of health and hospital services including health promotion and education.

From 1997 to 2002, Steve was Dean of the Sydney University Medical Faculty. After years of contributing to the development of education and research in the Faculty, he was able to oversee the transformation to a graduate program in medicine and a problem–based learning approach, taking advantage of the lessons from Newcastle, and providing leadership to other universities across the country.

During that time, he was also instrumental in the establishment of rural clinical schools like that at Broken Hill. These schools became centres of education and training and part of the support of health services for rural and isolated Australians.

Chronic disease

During his time as Dean and beyond, Steve continued his efforts nationally and internationally helping to lead international awareness of the emergence of chronic non-communicable diseases.

While at Columbia University in 2003 and 2004, he and colleagues at the Earth Institute published an influential report called Race Against Time. This report documents the opportunities for emerging economies to combat the coming epidemics of Coronary Vascular Disease before they become economically catastrophic burdens to those economies.

Since 2004, Steve has developed the concept of a Health Policy Unit, now the Menzies Centre for Health Policy. It devotes energy to researching, advising on and publicising many health policy issues, especially those relating to chronic disease. It also trains PhD students and other professionals who want to learn how to make better health policies.


Steve has received many awards in recognition of his efforts. In 2004 he was made an Officer in the Order of Australia and in 2007 he was awarded an honorary Fellowship of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners for his contribution over many years to primary health care and general practice.

As those who invite him to comment on programs or ideas will know well that he is a forceful, experienced and at times uncomfortable voice for the best in health services for Australians.