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Meet Rachel Thomas, model, biomedical engineer, medico and author

19 February 2018
From fashion model to role model

It is fair to say that Biomedical Engineer and Medical Doctor, Dr Rachel Thomas is a great role model for young women – something she is also passionate about being.

Rachel Thomas

Awarded the Grahame Mechanical Engineering Prize for excellence in engineering (2000) and the Dean's Engineering Scholarship for Academic Excellence, 1999–2004, Rachel set her mind to achieving great things as she completed her double degree in biomedical engineering and science at the University of Sydney.

After completing her undergraduate study, she was offered a place in the Doctor of Medicine program at Sydney. However, her successful modelling career took her overseas to London and she went on to graduate in Medicine at the University of Oxford in the UK.

She currently practices as a doctor in London and is now developing health technology platforms while completing a master's degree in the neuroscience and psychology of mental health.

The British Medical Association's Young Author of the Year 2016, Rachel has written two medical text books (Practical Medical Procedures at a Glance and Medical School at a Glance) as well as peer-reviewed journal articles.

If it were possible to fit anything more into her busy professional life, Rachel also manages to speak at schools, universities and institutions to encourage more young women into Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) or Medicine. We asked Rachel what drives her passion and what vision she sees coming into fruition in the next five years for biomedical engineering in the personalised medical field.

What do you enjoy most about your current role?

I enjoy the challenge of solving healthcare-related problems. I'm fortunate to be able to do this in different ways: clinically with patients as a doctor, by writing education books for healthcare professionals, and through devising technological solutions for larger issues.

Why did you decide to do a Bachelor of Engineering (Biomedical)?

I was interested in learning how to improve health and healthcare. I felt biomedical engineering could teach a different approach to problem-solving, building (a bridge) between medical technologies and clinical medicine.

What do you remember enjoying most during your time at the University?

Sydney University provides amazing opportunities to educate yourself in ways you hadn't imagined needing. I was able to study abroad at the University of California, Berkeley, on an exchange scholarship, which was great fun and very interesting. And I was in SUDS (the Sydney University Dramatic Society) which I really enjoyed too.

Have there been any pivotal moments or choices made during your career that have impacted your success or progress? What did you learn from that experience?

The decision to study medicine after I had completed my biomedical engineering and science double degree has obviously had a big impact on my career. I studied this at Oxford University and was able to learn more, not only about clinical medicine and patient experiences, but also about different healthcare systems.

What has been your greatest achievement to date – something that you are particularly proud of? What helped you to reach that goal?

I was honoured to be voted the British Medical Association's 'Best Young Author of the Year, 2016', based on the publication of my medical education books. I was pleased to realise that these books are helping medical students, doctors and healthcare professionals with their training, as well as helping to deliver better quality care to patients.

Is there a stand-out innovation or change in your field of expertise that has shifted the way things are done?

I think that the increasing use of artificial intelligence in medicine will be for the better. While there is some reluctance to accept it, I think it will free up doctors to spend more time with patients rather than looking at computer screens. And that is a good thing.

What advice would you give to a young person considering studying biomedical engineering?

Do it! It provides an excellent framework for how to think about different problems and how to devise solutions for them. This is obviously relevant in healthcare, but also in wider areas of service provision and other fields. I am also actively involved in encouraging girls to get and stay involved in science and engineering – any of the STEM subjects really, as women are still under-represented in these areas.

What exciting job opportunities do you see becoming a reality in your field of expertise in the next five years?

There is an explosion of fascinating research at the moment. I am currently looking at the neuroscience and psychology of mental health, with a view to a technological solution in this space. Personalised medicine, where therapeutics are targeted depending on your genetic make-up, will start becoming more widespread – and Biomedical Engineers will be helping this to become a reality.