Lives of the fellows

David Lawrence Sackett

b.17 November 1934 d.13 May 2015
OC(2001) BA Lawrence MD Illinois(1960) MSc Harvard(1967) FRSC(1993) FRCP(1995)

David Sackett was professor of clinical epidemiology and director of the first centre for evidence-based medicine at Oxford, chair of clinical epidemiology and biostatistics at McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada, and a pioneer of evidence-based medicine. He was born in Chicago, the son of DeForest Sackett, a designer and artist, and Margaret Helen Ross Sackett, an author. He graduated from Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin, and went on to the University of Illinois for his medical training. He gained his MD in 1960.

He obtained a research fellowship in renal disease, but in 1962 was drafted into the US Public Health Service as a result of the Cuban missile crisis. He was based in Buffalo, New York, at the Chronic Disease Research Institute, where he became interested in how epidemiology could be applied to clinical medicine. During this period he also gained a master of science degree in epidemiology from Harvard University.

In 1967 he was appointed as the founding chair of clinical epidemiology and biostatistics at the new medical school of McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario. At McMaster he followed the lead of Alvan Feinstein at Yale University in promoting evidence-based medicine – the idea that decision making can be optimised by the use of evidence from well-designed research, together with a consideration of the risks and benefits of interventions and the patient’s own preferences.

He was a principal investigator in the trials that showed the life-saving benefits of taking aspirin for patients at risk of stroke and heart attack. His research also demonstrated that the surgical repair of ‘hardened arteries’ in people at risk of stroke prevented both stroke and death, and showed the effectiveness of nurse practitioners in primary care settings. He wrote extensively, including Clinical epidemiology: a basic science for clinical medicine (Boston, Little, Brown, 1985), which became a classic text.

His reputation grew and in 1994 he accepted an invitation to go to Oxford, where he became professor of clinical epidemiology and director of the first centre for evidence-based medicine in Britain. He was also chair of the Cochrane Collaboration, an organisation set up to make research information accessible to healthcare professionals, and was founding co-editor of the journal Evidence Based Medicine.

In 1999 he retired from clinical practice and returned to Canada, where he set up the Trout Research and Education Centre, where he researched, taught and wrote about randomised clinical trials. In 1993 he became a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and in 2001 was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Outside medicine, he enjoyed walking, running, sailing and singing.

In 1957 he married Barbara Louise Bennett, a health care researcher. They had four sons, David, Charles, Andrew and Robert, and eight grandchildren.

RCP editor

[The Telegraph 26 May 2015 accessed 27 June 2017; The Guardian 29 May 2015 – accessed 27 June 2017; BMJ 2015 350 2639 – accessed 27 June 2017; The Lancet 2015 385 (9985) 2348 – accessed 27 June 2017; Wikipedia David Sackett – accessed 27 June 2017]

(Volume XII, page web)

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