School of Public Health and Community Medicine

Robyn Richmond receives a Doctor of Science for her research

Prof Robyn Richmond

Professor Robyn Richmond has been awarded a Doctor of Science for her research in treatments for nicotine dependence and public health approaches to tobacco control and in reducing alcohol consumption among people drinking at unsafe levels.

Higher Doctorates are the highest academic award conferred by the University of New South Wales.  

The criteria for a Doctor of Science are described as follows. They are awarded on “the basis of a significant body of published scholarly work that establishes the graduate as a distinguished authority in an area of research, commanding worldwide recognition. The graduate has made a significant contribution to the advancement of learning with the contributions being exemplified in a discourse that outlines the theoretical basis of the work and the significance of the candidate’s contribution to knowledge. Higher doctorates are rare and are awarded for independent and original research that constitutes a substantial and distinguished contribution to knowledge in a field.”

Robyn is the only public health academic in Australia to have been awarded a Doctor of Science by submission of a discourse.

The Graduate Research School has provided these statistics:

35 Doctor of Science degrees have been awarded since 1993, which is the earliest date of GRS records.  Of these:

  • 27 have been awarded through the Faculty of Science
  • 7 have been awarded through the Faculty of Medicine
  • 1 has been awarded through the UNSW Business School
  • Robyn is the first woman to have been awarded the DSc by submission of a discourse since the records began in 1993.

Robyn has been carrying out research on treatments for smoking cessation for three decades. Since the early 1980s she has conducted research into treatments for tobacco smokers in different settings including general practice, workplaces, hospitals, the prison system and Indigenous communities.  Over this time, more than 31,000 participants have been recruited to her smoking teams’ studies, either as subjects or deliverers of the smoking interventions. This includes over 1130 general practitioners, 144 practice nurses and 18,555 patients from 410 general practices in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, ACT, NT and WA. With her team, she has conducted training workshops for GPs in Australia, New Zealand and in other countries, training around 12,500 GPs in her smoking cessation program so that they can assist their patients to quit smoking.

Over the past 15 years Robyn and her research teams and higher degree students have targeted reduction of tobacco use among disadvantaged people with high risk lifestyle behaviours including people with a mental illness, prison inmates and Indigenous persons.  She has conducted research among more than 11,000 participants from disadvantaged populations including over 600 people with a mental illness from 10 treatment clinics in Sydney, Melbourne and Newcastle; around 500 prisoners from 31 correctional facilities across NSW and Queensland; over 1000 indigenous people from communities in NSW and the Northern Territory; and more than 5000 high risk employees in workplaces across Australia.  With research students she has researched smoking policies in 148 local government councils in NSW; and conducted a longitudinal study of the extent of teaching about tobacco and smoking cessation programs in 1376 medical schools around the world.

She is recognised as a leader in studies of treatments for tobacco smokers. Her studies are original and pioneering and are among the first research in Australia and in some instances, internationally, to:

  • Show the general practitioner (GP) has an important role in helping smokers to quit tobacco use (first series of randomised control trials in Australia and second in the world)
  • Demonstrate that the workplace is an important context to deliver smoking cessation and other healthy lifestyle interventions (first series of studies in Australia and among the earliest research in the world)
  • Illustrate that people with severe mental illness can be assisted to stop smoking (first randomised control trials in the world)
  • Highlight the importance of the prison system, which contains high proportions of Indigenous people, those with a mental illness and drug users, as a setting to assist smokers to quit tobacco use (first randomised controlled trial in the world conducted among male prisoners and in 31 prisons)
  • Show the effectiveness of use of nicotine replacement therapy (tablets and gum) to assist smokers to quit in general practice (first studies in Australia)   
  • Demonstrate that teaching medical students about tobacco can improve knowledge about tobacco control and understanding of smoking cessation techniques on a global scale (first series of studies in the world).

When Robyn commenced tobacco research among GPs, there were 40% of males and 31% of females who smoked.  At that time, 40% of all deaths in Australian were as a result of coronary heart disease. During the intervening three decades, there has been a significant decrease in smoking rates to 15% of males and 11% of females. Coronary heart disease now causes 13% of all Australian deaths.  

A number of Commonwealth and State governments, non-government organisations such as the National Heart Foundation and the Cancer Councils and important campaigns and influences (such as general practitioners and other health professionals who have counselled on smoking cessation and recommended anti-smoking medications) have been responsible for reducing tobacco use among Australians over many years.

Additionally, Robyn’s sustained and energetic commitment to research on treatments for nicotine dependence followed by translations of her findings into general practice and other settings and into guidelines and teaching programs, has made a unique and significant contribution to the range of successful public health initiatives. Together these have led to positive health outcomes of reduced cigarette use and related diseases in this country. 

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