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Vale Professor George C Patton MB BS MD FAAHMS FRANZCP FRCPsych, Eminent Global Adolescent Health Expert

Burnet Institute

09 December, 2022

Vale Professor George C Patton

Burnet is saddened to hear of the passing of Professor George Patton an honorary staff member of Burnet, and a friend, colleague, and collaborating partner of many at the Institute.

Professor George Patton was an eminent Adolescent Psychiatrist and Psychiatric Epidemiologist whose career focused on improving the health of adolescents, in Australia and across the globe.

George’s work brought global attention to adolescence as a unique developmental stage. His work defined the unmet needs of the world’s young people, and he articulated the actions required to improve adolescent health.

George’s recent career was defined by the Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Wellbeing. This landmark body of work was accompanied by a commentary by the former Secretary General of the United Nations identifying young people as the ‘world’s greatest untapped resource’. The Commission has proven remarkably influential, not only in shaping how people think about the significance of adolescents and their health, but also in galvanising the nature of investments made to advance their health and wellbeing.

George’s global contributions emerged out of his stellar research career in Australia where he led long-term cohort studies that continue to describe how adolescent health needs emerge from childhood through adolescence, from adolescence into adulthood, and into the next generation, including mental health (anxiety, depression, suicide and self-harm, eating disorders), substance use, sexual health and more recently, COVID-19.

Prof George C Patton

George led the landmark multi-faceted trial to improve adolescent health within schools known as the Gatehouse project, named in honour of the original street address of the Centre for Adolescent Health; this intervention has recently been replicated in diverse settings such as the London, UK and Bihar, India and has similarly inspired many health-education initiatives in Australia and globally.

His research interests also focused on disadvantaged young Australians including those in youth justice settings, those experiencing homelessness, and young people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage.

George graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1978. His postgraduate training took him to UK where he trained in Psychiatry and Epidemiology at London’s Royal Free Hospital. In 1991 he returned to Australia and took up a position at the very newly established Royal Children’s Hospital’s Centre for Adolescent Health, with an academic appointment in the Department of Paediatrics and subsequently also at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. George was Director of the Centre for Adolescent Health from 1997 to 2003 before transitioning to Director of Adolescent Health Research at the Centre. Over this time, he helped shift adolescent health from a nascent clinical sub-speciality of paediatrics to a critical area of public health programming in its own right.

George was unfailingly committed to the highest scientific standards and was piercingly creative and rigorous in how he approached research. He published paper upon paper in the world’s leading academic journals and was an equally powerful scientific communicator on the stage. Despite this, he remained a remarkably humble man who was unfailingly generous with his time, ideas and wisdom, characteristics that no doubt explain why he was so sought-after within various global leadership networks. George was equally committed to growing the next generation of research leaders and he supervised and mentored more than 40 PhD and postgraduate scholars.

George’s 30 years of research leadership at the Centre for Adolescent Health saw it emerge as ‘the’ place to study adolescent health globally; it continues to welcome scores of visiting academics, clinicians, and students from across the world each year. While the Centre’s ‘extended family’ will undoubtedly share our loss, the rigour and innovativeness of his research legacy, and that of those he trained, will influence the field for generations to come.

George was an absolute giant in the field of adolescent health, and we have lost a much-valued colleague and friend. His legacy will undoubtedly live on through the many of us he mentored.

George’s life and work were shared with Professor Susan Sawyer AM, who took over from George as director of the Centre for Adolescent Health in 2004. Our thoughts are with Susan, George’s children Susannah, Thomas, Imogen and Jonathan, grandson Robert, and the entire Centre for Adolescent Health family.

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