Portrait of Michael Cousins

MBBS (SYD) 1963
MD (SYD) 1975, DSC (SYD) 2006
FFARACS, 1968 (FFARCS, 1969)
FANZCA, 1992 FRCA, 1992
FAICD, 2010 FAAHMS, 2016

DATE OF DEATH: 27 April 2024

Michael Cousins was born in Sydney in 1939. After completing his formal schooling, Cousins continued through to the University of Sydney to study medicine, graduating MB BS in 1963. After gaining his FFARACS in 1968 he began to investigate and focus his practice on the needs of patients suffering acute and chronic pain. Cousins became the founding President of the Australian Pain Society in 1979 and, in 1999, the founding Dean of the Faculty of Pain Medicine (FPM) at the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA). He served as ANZCA President from 2004 – 2006.
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Professor Michael Cousins AO
Michael Cousins was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1939. Cousins enrolled in medicine at the University of Sydney and graduated, MB BS, in 1963.

After graduating, he completed his residency at the St George Hospital and undertook training in anaesthesia at the Royal North Shore Hospital. With a natural interest in, and inclination toward research, Cousins was awarded a postgraduate fellowship from the University of Sydney to carry out research on acute pain management. This gave him the opportunity work with Prof Philip Bromage, a pioneer in the field, at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

In 1970, Cousins was appointed Assistant Professor of Anesthesia at Stanford University, California. Here, he collaborated with Prof Richard Mazze in studies of the metabolism and kidney toxicity caused by inhalational anaesthetic agents. This work saw him awarded an MD by the University of Sydney.

During his time in Canada and America, Cousins worked with three of the pioneers in pain medicine: Dr Ronald Melzack, Dr Patrick Wall and Dr John Bonica. These interactions stimulated the research, teaching, clinical innovation and development of the field of pain medicine in Australia and internationally.


Cousins returned to Australia in 1975, setting up a multidisciplinary centre in pain medicine at Flinders Medical Centre in Adelaide and, in 1990, at the University of Sydney, Royal North Shore Hospital. Both of these centres became internationally recognised for clinical care, teaching and research. In 1998, the University of Sydney Pain Management Research Institute (PMRI) was recognised by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia as one of only eight “Centres of Clinical Excellence in Hospital Based Research”. Cousins also fostered the development of a University of Sydney diploma and masters course in pain management. He chaired a NHMRC working part between 1995 and 1999 which developed Australia’s first evidence based medicine guideline on the management of acute pain. This guideline is now used internationally.

Michael Cousins is the only Australian, and the second anaesthetist to serve as president of the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP). Appointed in 1987, he served a three term and played a major role in stimulating the IASP to form an official relationship with the World Health Organisation to place more emphasis on cancer pain and acute pain, in addition to the existing emphasis on chronic pain. The first IASP core curriculum on pain was developed together with a document that first described the desirable characteristics for multidisciplinary pain centre, and a ground breaking report on pain in the workplace. In recognition of these and other contributions, he was made an Honorary Member of the IASP in 1999. This was followed up with being made an Honorary Member of the Pain Society of Great Britain and Ireland.


Cousins was a councillor with ANZCA from 1995 through to 2006, and elected as President in 2004. Major initiatives during his presidency include overhauling governance processes, a new focus on perioperative medicine, a new emphasis on quality and safety, involvement of prominent community leaders on the ANZCA Foundation Board, and a major research fundraising drive. As a councillor, he was strongly involved in the development and implementation of the Faculty of Pain Medicine, which came into being in 1998. It seems a natural circumstance that Cousins was the faculty’s inaugural Dean.

In these roles, Cousins contributed to the development of health policy, which continued via his role as a councillor of the Australian Medical Council.

Alongside his activities in pain medicine, Cousins has developed two major centres of education and research in anaesthesia via foundation chairs at Flinders University and the University of Sydney. A strong focus in intensive care research was also developed at Flinders University, as well as the development of the Sydney Medical Stimulation Centre, based at Royal North Shore Hospital.

He has produced over 330 original papers, reviews, book chapters and editorials. Cousins’ research has had a particular focus on the development of a societal and political framework for pain relief as a universal right. He was awarded a DSc by University of Sydney for this research in 2006.

Throughout his career, Cousins has been the recipient of numerous awards, honours and accolades in anaesthesia and pain medicine, including being awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2014.



1968     ANZCA Cecil Gray Prize
1982     RACS John Mitchell Crouch Fellowship
1986     Mushin Medal, Welsh National University
1995     Member of the Order of Australia (AM)
1996     Gaston Labat Award, American Society of Regional Anesthesia
1999     Honorary Member, Pain Society of Great Britain and Ireland
1999     Honorary Member, International Association for the Study of Pain
1999     Vocational Excellence in Anaesthesia and Pain Medicine Award, Rotary
2005     TH Sheldon Award, International Anesthesia Research Society
2007     William Russ Pugh Research Award, Australian Society of Anaesthetists
2008     ANZCA Robert Orton Medal
2008     Distinguished Member Award, Australian Pain Society


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


  1. Michael Cousins portrait (photograph), c1999
  2. Michael Cousins portrait (painted), 2018