Portrait of Rupert Atkinson

FPM DEAN FROM 2002 – 2004

FRACS, 1971
FAFRM (RACP), 1980 OR 1984


Dr Leigh Atkinson is a Specialist Pain Medicine Physician and Neurosurgeon at the Wesley Hospital. He was awarded Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (Neurosurgeons) in 1971, a Fellowship of the Australian Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine (RACP) in 1980, and Fellowship of the Faculty of Pain Medicine (FPM) at the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists in 1999. As a Foundation Fellow of FPM, and inaugural board member, Atkinson has had a significant influence on the development of the specialty. In 2002 he was elected Dean of the Faculty. Atkinson has a special interest in the non-interventional approach to managing persistent pain.

Can you add any details to this biography?
If so, complete the Contributor Form.

Rupert Leigh Atkinson, the eldest of Edna and Lionel Atkinson’s seven children, was born in Brisbane on 12 December, 1938. His father was a general practitioner surgeon. Educated at Gregory Terrace College, Brisbane, and Downlands College, Toowoomba, he studied medicine at the University of Queensland, graduating MB BS in 1962.

He trained as a neurosurgeon at the Mater Hospital, Brisbane and the Department of Surgical Neurology in Edinburgh gaining the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (Edinburgh) in 1967.

Returning to Australia in 1970 he was appointed as a visiting surgeon to the Mater Hospital Brisbane, and gained the Fellowship of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons in 1971 (Neurosurgery). He became foundation chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in 1974, holding that position until 1996. Three years later he also became foundation co-chair of The Queensland Craniofacial Unit at Mater Children’s Hospital, now at Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital, Brisbane, in 1977. As a result of his interest in cerebral palsy and spina bifida he was elected as a Foundation Fellow of the Australian Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, Royal Australasian College of Physicians, in 1980.

His neurosurgical involvement in surgery for chronic pain disorders, and work with Professor John Gillingham in Edinburgh, drew him to managing chronic pain patients and he founded the multidisciplinary pain unit at the Princess Alexandra hospital in 1979.

Surgical sectioning of pain pathways had disappointing outcomes and it was evident that alternative management was needed. He developed an interest in neuromodulation. Joining the council of the Australian Pain Society in 1980, he became president in 1984. At this time the council was active in developing multidisciplinary pain clinics in Australia with the help of leaders such as Professor Michael Cousins in Adelaide and the psychiatrist Professor Issy Pilowsky.

Leigh Atkinson promoted the profile of chronic pain issues in roles as president of The Neurosurgical Society of Australasia in 1986, chairman of the Board of Neurosurgery, Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 1988 to 1991, and during his time as councillor and vice president of the Royal Australasian College Surgeons 1986 to 1998. In addition, through his work on the council of the Australian Council of Health Care Standards 1994 to 2000, he founded the pain section of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 2003, which now includes a two day meeting in each annual scientific meeting.

In 1998 the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons nominated Leigh Atkinson to be their representative on the multidisciplinary Faculty of Pain Medicine including fellows in anaesthetics, psychiatry and medicine. After joining the Faculty of Pain Medicine, Leigh Atkinson represented surgeons on the foundation board formed in 1999 and, following Professor Michael Cousins’ period as the first dean, he became the second dean from 2002 to 2004, remaining on the board until 2008.

International interests included election as secretary-general of the Asian-Australasian Society of Neurological Surgeons (1979 -2000) and second vice president (1989-1993) and treasurer of the World Federation of the Neurosurgical Societies ( 2001 -2005) while he was president of the Asian  Surgical Association (1999- 2001).

Currently he is director of the Multi Disciplinary Pain and Spine Unit at Wesley Hospital, Brisbane, a tribunal member for Q-COMP, and a committee member of the pain and medicolegal committees of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons .

In 2010, he was influential in obtaining an allocation of 40 million dollars from the Queensland Minister of Health, the Honourable Paul Lucas, for the ongoing funding of four multidisciplinary pain units in Queensland public hospitals.


1972     Rotary Foundation Fellowship to USA
1982     AMA Travelling Fellowship to USA
1991     Medal of the Neurosurgical Society of Australasia
1998     Court of Honour, Royal Australasian College of Surgeons
2003     Centenary Medal of Australia
2004     Officer of the Order of Australia


The information in these biographies has been researched via the ANZCA Archives with the assistance of the individual Fellows.


  1. Dr Leigh Atkinson portrait (photograph), c2001