Dr Rowan Hillson MBE

Rowan Hillson photoCurrent position: National Clinical Director for Diabetes 2008-2013

Course: MBChB, Medicine, 1974


This mentor may be of interest to Medical or Nursing students, or those with an interest in diabetes or careers in health.


Dr Rowan Hillson graduated from Birmingham Medical School in 1974. It was to prove the beginning of an exceptional career in health which has seen her practice in Birmingham, Liverpool and Oxford before joining Hillingdon Hospital in 1989. Remarkably, Dr Hillson manages to combine her keen interest in clinical practice, training and development, and research with writing and she has published a number of books on diabetes and other subjects.

It is Dr Hillson’s pioneering work with people who have diabetes that has gained her the most international recognition and acclaim – work which began over 30 years ago as a junior registrar. As a senior registrar, she pioneered Outward Bound courses for people with diabetes. In 1989 she established the diabetes team in Hillingdon and led the project to develop the Hillingdon Diabetes and Endocrine Unit. This centre, named Diabeticare, gained an international reputation and in 1997 Dr Hillson and the team won the national Hospital Doctor Diabetes Team award. In 2006 she was awarded an MBE for contributions to medicine and healthcare. Dr Hillson was a Consultant Physician in diabetes and endocrinology at Hillingdon Hospital until 2012 when she retired from clinical work.

Dr Hillson was appointed National Clinical Director for Diabetes for the Department of Health. As Diabetes Tsar from 2008 to 2013 responsible for 2.6 million patients in England and working with colleagues she greatly increased information about diabetes care nationally, helping to establish the National Diabetes Information Service. She drove improvements in diabetes care in primary care and hospitals, and established the Safe Use of Insulin project – the e-learning course has had over 100,000 registrants. She also works with the Royal College of Physicians, Diabetes UK, and the Association of British Clinical Diabetologists,  and worked with the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence for many years. 

Quotes from mentees

  • I am just beginning my journey through the Alumni Leadership Programme and I can already see it is going to be an exciting and challenging time. I am looking forward to building on my skills, learning to take the lead more so that I can develop as a professional.
  • We talked about my plans to travel to Rwanda for my medical elective and Dr Hillson was able to give some useful advice as she has also travelled in Africa herself.
  • The meeting was not only extremely useful in a practical sense, it was also really interesting to meet someone who has been through the same experiences and challenges at medical school and can offer advice and perspective on the process.
  • Dr Hillson, I found friendly and easy to talk to. This enabled me to explain my course and talk about any issues I had. In particular we discussed topic which seems to haunt the lives of all third years; the dissertation. I explained my chosen topic and some of the difficulties I came across. Dr Hillson was able to point me in the direction of some of her colleagues who work in the area that may be able to enhance my understanding.