Sackett DL (2015)

Sackett DL. Interview in 2014 and 2015. Brian Haynes, ed. McMaster University.
Extended questions and answers prepared by Dave Sackett shortly before his death in 2015, and edited by Brian Haynes.

Title page(s)


David Sackett let us know that he had metastatic cholangiocarcinoma in 2014. As I recall, Iain Chalmers and Steve Goodman urged me to “do something” to record his story and thoughts on his remarkable life and career. Dave was never keen on open-ended interviews, didn’t want to produce a “memoire”, let alone an autobiography, but he agreed to an interview in which we could submit a set of questions which he would think about and perhaps write out responses to. Iain, Steve and I put together a set of questions which I then negotiated with Dave. His responses to the questions emerged over the next few months, ending with the final touches in early May 2015, just a week before his death on May 11.

Dave was often very ill during this period, with his biliary tree blocked, and a stream, then torrent, of surgical, chemo and radiation interventions. Fortunately, Dave found the writing to be a diversion from the health problems he was suffering from each day. With the surpassing help and support of his wife, Barbara, both for health care and organizing materials for, and editing, his responses, Dave prepared a truly fascinating and illuminating history both of his own life and career, and of clinical epidemiology and its unfolding gift to health care, evidence-based medicine.

My role was minor in the interview process – the words are Dave’s – as editor, I helped keep things on track and moving along. But I got much more than I gave: a final opportunity to work with my teacher, mentor, colleague and friend, David Sackett.

Brian Haynes

Key passage(s)

Preface by David Sackett

When I told my friends (and anyone else who asked) about my metastatic cholangiocarcinoma, it sparked requests for interviews about my career, beliefs, and outlook from several journals, institutions, and individuals.

I dislike ‘on the spot’ interviews, certainly didn’t want to keep repeating myself for different interviewers, and was concerned that I’d miss mentioning important events and people in ‘live’ interviews. So I made a counter-proposal to these requests: send me your questions, and I’ll collate, combine, and compose a single set of written responses to them. This document is the result.

My hero, Brian Haynes (he was one of my 1st mentees in 1972, and now I’m 1 of his) agreed to edit the emerging document. In addition, to make sure it is rational and coherent, he is part of the group who have monitored my intellectual function along the way (because folks in the end-stage of my cancer often develop Alzheimer-like hepatic encephalopathy).

The interview questions fell into 2 series, each having 4 logical ‘Sections:’ An historic flow of experiences and progressing ideas:

I. The Making of a Clinical Epidemiologist: 1934 – 1967.
II. McMaster Medical School: 1967 – 1994.
III. The Oxford Years: 1994 – 1999.
IV. Back Home to Irish Lake: 1999 – And a series of transcending matters:
V. My Career as a Clinician.
VI. My Career as a Clinical Trialist.
VII. My Career as a Clinical Epidemiologist.
VIII. Summing Up.

In whatever I have accomplished I am indebted to hundreds of students, colleagues, and teachers, and my constant fear is that I’ve failed to name some of them and acknowledge their help and friendship in this document. I ask for their forgiveness.

Finally, a few prior interviews might shed additional lights on aspects of interest:

  1. A 1979 oral interview about starting the McMaster medical school, taken 12 years after my appointment as the Foundation Chair of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics there. Source: McMaster University Health Sciences Library.
  2. An interview Profiling the EBM Man by an Oxford medical student. Source: Hobson J. Profiling the EBM man – Professor Sackett. Student BMJ 1998;6:75-6.
  3. A 2009 television interview, taken when I received the Gairdner-Wightman Award. See below.
  4. A series of 2014 television interviews about the past, present, and future of EBM, organized by the British Medical Journal and the Journal of the American Medical Association. Sources: and and
  5. A 2015 interview by Alison Rose. (forthcoming)

Whole article

Download the full article as a PDF

Sackett DL (2015). Interview in 2014 and 2015.


David L Sackett (1934-2015)

Other material(s)

Sackett DL (1979).
Bias in analytic research. Journal of Chronic Diseases 32:51-63.

Evans CE, Haynes RB, Birkett NJ, Gilbert JR, Taylor DW, Sackett DL, Johnston ME, Hewson SA (1986).
Does a mailed continuing education program improve physician performance? Results of a randomized trial in antihypertensive care. JAMA 24-31;255:501-4.

Guyatt G, Sackett D, Taylor DW, Chong J, Roberts R, Pugsley S (1986).
Determining optimal therapy-randomized trials in individual patients. New England Journal of Medicine 314:889-92.

Ellis J, Mulligan I, Rowe J, Sackett DL (1995)
Inpatient general medicine is evidence based. Lancet 346:407-410.

Sackett DL, Rosenberg WMC, Gray JAM, Haynes RB, Richardson WS (1996).
Evidence based medicine: what it is and what it isn’t. BMJ 312:71-73.

Sackett D, Straus S; for Firm A of the Nuffield Department of Medicine (1998).
Finding and applying evidence during clinical rounds: the “Evidence Cart”. JAMA 280:1336-1338.

Straus S, Eisinga A, Sackett D (2015).
What drove the Evidence Cart? Bringing the library to the bedside.

Video / Audio

Evidence-based medicine: McMaster University’s Dr. David Sackett and the pioneering work that won him the prestigious Gairdner Award.


The editors are grateful to:

Brian Haynes, Professor Emeritus, McMaster University, for compiling and editing the material for this record.