He studied medicine at the University of Adelaide, graduating in 1959. He attended Newcastle Boys High School and later Fort Street High School in Sydney.
In 1967 he took up a position as Specialist Physician and Deputy Medical Superintendent of the Portuguese Moresby hospital in Papua New Guinea. Robert M. Douglas prefers to be called Bob. Bob enjoys working on his organisation, Australia 21, writing poetry, reading and spending time with his family.
In Papua New Guinea, he developed an interest in respiratory infections particularly the prevention of pneumonia, which led to work in the United States of America on licensure of pneumococcal vaccine.
This interest led to a position with the World Health Organisation, working on programs to reduce child deaths from pneumonia. After working as an academic in public health he became Dean of Medicine at the University of Adelaide, and later Director of the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, and Coordinating Editor of the Acute Respiratory Infections Group of the Cochrane Collaboration.
He is a former President of The Public Health Association of Australia and of The Australasian Epidemiological Association. In 2001, after retiring as Emeritus Professor at The Australian National University, he founded Australia 21 - a non-profit organisation developing research networks on issues of importance to Australia"s future.
He is currently Chairman of the Board.
Along with the Nature and Society Forum he is also exploring the feasibility of developing some prototype SEE-change centres in Canberra. This is a new mechanism to enable Australians to connect with each other and the environment and to refurbish our spirit, our hope and our understanding of the future. A place where ordinary Australians have the opportunity to debate and consider new directions for our society.
He is also a committed environmentalist.