As a new cohort of medicine and health professionals graduate and enter the workforce, we asked our alumni to reflect on their university experiences and pass on a word of wisdom to the class of 2021.
Matthew Jennings launched his career in Allied Health with a Bachelor of Health Science (Physiotherapy).
"University was where I first connected with many of my greatest friends! A huge mixing pot of people from different backgrounds and experiences working towards understanding their place in the world. It was where I cultivated the values and attitudes and the sense of purpose that has guided me through my career, through life."
Matthew has many achievements to date, including being awarded the 2019 University of Sydney Faculty of Health Sciences Alumni Award for Professional Achievement, but attributes much of his success to those he has worked with.
"I have had the privilege to work with so many outstanding people over my career in health service delivery, research, policy and practice and the development and implementation of models of care. I still get a buzz from every project, working with culturally and linguistically diverse communities or educating, mentoring and building the capability of our health workforce."
"Explore, be curious, find your own path and always look to make a difference. You will often be told by others that you need to do this or that you must do that in order to succeed. That is not true. Everyone can add value whether it be through research, education, clinical work or another field altogether and all you need is purpose and to stay true to your own goals and values. Personally, I hope for leadership and support for our most diverse and vulnerable populations to reduce the current levels of socioeconomic disadvantage and improve their health outcomes. Lastly, despite the challenges, remain resilient and you will find the journey as rewarding as I have done."
As the first female colorectal surgeon in Australia, Associate Professor Margaret Schnitzler is now proud to be Head of the Northern Clinical School and Chair of the Sydney Medical School Professionalism committee contributing to the education and training of the next generation of doctors.
Having studied medicine at Sydney from 1979-1983, Margaret recalls fond memories of practical classes in the Anderson Stuart Building and how her studies shaped her career.
"I recall walking along the cool tiled hallways in that beautiful old building and feeling as if I had stepped back in history. I loved the Anatomy sessions where we were privileged to learn from prosected specimens, although the smell of formalin could be overwhelming. That experience of anatomy teaching influenced my decision to pursue a surgical career."
My degree has been fundamental to my career and life course. It is nearly 40 years since I graduated and I still enjoy my work a great deal.
"After the years of hospital based surgical training, I spent 2 years doing fellowships in colorectal surgery in the USA and Canada, and also completed a PhD in Molecular Genetics. This training led to an academic appointment at the University as well as a position as a colorectal surgeon at Royal North Shore Hospital."
On a career in medicine and health; "It's great! but it might take a while for you to figure out what field is best for you. Don’t be afraid to seek the advice of your teachers and senior doctors and other seasoned professionals - they’ve all started out like you, and in my experience are keen to share their learnings and talk about themselves! Reach out for help and ask questions. You are never alone."
Before deciding that the puzzle of epidemiology was his passion, Dr Jeremy McAnulty studied Medicine in 1980.
“I had grown up and gone to school in Nyngan (at the smallest high school in the state), in western NSW where there were 16 people in my Year 12 class, so it was quite a contrast to come to the University with around 250 classmates."
It felt an extraordinary privilege to be among the grand sandstone buildings and hallowed halls, and it was daunting wondering if I could keep up with my brainy cohort.”
After doing a residency and spending some time outside of Australia, Jeremy returned to Sydney to study the Master of Public Health.
“My MPH opened my eyes to the vast array of people who work in health outside of medicine who work to prevent illness in the first place, and help people to live well. Both clinical care and public health make huge impacts on people's health and keep the community well. I use learnings from both degrees continually in my role at NSW Health to inform policy discussions and to communicate with colleagues, patients, people at risk of illness, and the community at large.”
Jeremey has had a substantial impact in the field of epidemiology, working to understand and control important outbreaks, including infectious diseases like hepatitis A, cryptosporidiosis, E Coli infection, leptosporidiosis, legionella, and influenza. He has seen improvement in policies to prevent infections, helped keep major events safe and minimised the impact of pandemics like SARS, H1N1 influenza (swine flu) and of course Covid-19, but says he has never been alone in his achievements.
“I don’t think anyone achieves things alone - certainly not me. I have been privileged to work with amazingly enthusiastic, skilled and thoughtful people, and through them, we have been able to unravel a few puzzles and use that knowledge to prevent illness. I am really proud of helping develop NSW Health’s public health network. The network involves a range of public health workers across public health units who develop and implement programs to protect people’s health across the state.”
"I would encourage anyone with an interest in the field to pursue a career in medicine and health. It is an amazing privilege to use the skills and training you have acquired to help people in a practical way. Clinical medicine is very rewarding but it is good to have another dimension to your work such as aid work, research, education, or advocacy to keep your work life interesting. There is almost endless scope to find an area of practice which you enjoy and it can be a very stimulating and fulfilling professional life."
Dr Antonio Di Dio studied medicine in 1990, where he found a passion for the mental health of doctors and health professionals.
“My uni memories are wonderful, I particularly enjoyed a personality-twisting five years at a residential college. There were many difficult moments which has subconsciously formed my lifetime commitment to the mental health of doctors, from first year students to the very old. I do it every day.”
"When I finished at RPA I felt a real calling, unchanged from age of 3, to be a GP. I became (hopefully) a good and caring GP to my patients in Redfern, then Five Dock, Mosman, then the last 15 years in Canberra where my wife Cath and I raise lovely young people. Two of them have been through USYD which makes me insanely proud and rekindles my love of the place so much."
Now, as a General Practitioner and AMA ACT President, Antonio has found himself fighting a war with various governments on COVID, hospital culture hurting doctors mental health, and 'everything else'.
"It was a strange year that led to more and more such moments of wondering 'how did I get here?'"
He continues the important work of supporting the wellbeing of doctors through a 24/7 “Lifeline” and feels great privilege in every opportunity to work with other professionals in the field and the consequent friendships that come with doing so.
"Sometime in my mid-20s I started saying "yes” to everything and I think that’s what has enriched my life so much more than I could have dreamed. If I had one message for the kids it is that. Just volunteer for everything. My primary role is still a doctor and clinician but I guess it’s important to see that this degree allows you so much more if you wish it.
I want these graduands to know how fortunate they are, and that the world may have troubles but it is also wonderful. It is imperative they learn that should they make deliberate efforts to contribute to the sum total of human wonderfulness, the primary beneficiaries will always be themselves."