RANZCP honours former Turning Point clinician Associate Professor Alan Gijsbers

17 Aug 2020

The Victorian branch of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) has honoured former Turning Point clinician, Associate Professor Alan Gijsbers with a Meritorious Award for his contribution to improving the mental health of Victorians.

Alan’s medical career began at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne in 1970. A few years earlier, the hospital had opened a specialist clinic for people with alcohol dependence. As a general medical and gastroenterology registrar, Alan would run sessions at the clinic educating drink drivers on the medical effects of acute and chronic alcohol consumption.

Alan Gijsbers
Alan Gijsbers

Following his time at St Vincent’s, Alan moved to India with his family where he undertook clinical practice and undergraduate and postgraduate medical education at the Christian Medical College and Hospital Vellore. It was a place of great spirituality and provided Alan with the opportunity to reflect more deeply on the meaning of his chosen profession. Whilst in India, he was introduced to clinical epidemiology, a skill he would draw upon when he returned to Melbourne.

After five and a half years, Alan returned to St Vincent’s Hospital. In that time the specialist clinic had evolved into the Department of Community Medicine run by Addiction Physician, Professor Greg Whelan, who would later go on to help lead the establishment of Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre. Alan spent his time at St Vincent’s researching blood alcohol levels as a predicator for severe alcohol dependence and published several papers in an effort to influence drink driving legislation.

Alan joined Turning Point in 1997, two years after it was first established and a year after it moved from its original location, a small building in Smith St, Collingwood to a new purpose-built facility on Gertrude St in Fitzroy. Alan refers to that time as the ‘glory days’ when there was time for clinicians to see patients, innovate and build the evidence base. 

“It was a fraught space, but we learnt how to care for each other whilst supporting Melburnians with some of the most complex health and social issues,” he says.

Alan collaborated with his Turning Point colleagues and published widely on the efficacy of substitution pharmacotherapy. He recounts in particular the success of buprenorphine and its introduction into hospitals and general practice, noting that it was an outstanding example of collaboration between academic institutions, a pharmaceutical company, and general practice.  

In 2003, Alan became a consultant with DACAS, a 24-hour seven day a week Drug and Alcohol Clinical Advisory Service operated by Turning Point to assist health and welfare professionals to respond effectively to individuals with alcohol or other drug use problems. He also took on a teaching role at Monash University, teaching students enrolled in the Master of Psychological Medicine course. 

With establishment of the Australasian Chapter of Addiction Medicine in 2003, Alan become their fifth Foundation Fellow and contributed to publications on Addiction Medicine. He subsequently moved on from his clinical role at Turning Point, growing successful private and public practices at the Melbourne Clinic and the Royal Melbourne Hospital, though he remained a DACAS consultant until 2015.

Throughout his distinguished career, Alan taught many Victorian addiction medical specialists and complemented his scientific mentoring and teaching with his commitment to spirituality and extensive knowledge of philosophy. He has always been colourful and candid in his role as a leader in the field of addiction medicine, and clinical meetings at Turning Point and DACAS were always entertaining and enlightening due to Alan’s insights and experience.

Turning Point congratulates Alan on his award honouring an outstanding career and the lifetime contribution he has made to the field of addiction.