University of Melbourne Magazine

Training doctors for a better world

  • “I’m indigenous to Nagaland, which borders North-East India and Burma, and moved to Melbourne with my family when I was six,” says Visopiano Sanyü.

    “The experiences of my village, my people and our life here in Australia have all had a profound impact on my sense of belonging as a global citizen, and shaped my ambition to effect change in the world as a global health practitioner.”

    Ms Sanyü has been studying medicine at the University of Melbourne since 2011, and has much in common with Leander Timothy, a Melbourne student whose passion for public and global health stems from his experience leading a nomadic lifestyle as a child and young adult. Leaving South Africa during the apartheid era, Mr Timothy moved with his family to Whangarei, New Zealand, where his family found support among the Maori community. Later they moved to Singapore, and finally, Mr Timothy found himself in Cambodia – where he was first compelled to “give back” to communities in need by working with local health organisations in under-resourced rural areas.

    Ms Sanyü and Mr Timothy are two of eight students who form the inaugural cohort of the dual Doctor of Medicine (MD) and Master of Public Health (MPH) offered by the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences. This program, the first of its kind in Australia, offers medical students the opportunity to undertake the Master of Public Health between the third and fourth years of their medical studies, providing them with the opportunity to be trained and engaged in public health prior to undertaking their advanced medical training.

    Rob Moodie, Professor of Public Health at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, says the intercalated program was established to equip medical students with a thorough grounding in public health and better prepare students to develop as globally-minded leaders.

    “This program is a response to a real and growing interest in public health among medical students and professionals,” says Professor Moodie.

    “Whether these students will continue to work clinically or whether they’ll shift to a career in public health, these students will finish their medical degrees with a greater understanding of national, state and local health systems – greater insights into how to work within these systems, and a greater understanding of how to contribute to these systems to solve public health problems, both in Australia and internationally.”

    “What I’m keen to see as a result of this program are health clinicians who understand the bigger picture.”

    Professor Moodie studied medicine at the Melbourne Medical School before going on to complete his Master of Public Health at Harvard University. His own capacity to see the bigger picture first emerged when he was a young doctor working in refugee camps treating children with preventable diseases.

     “Working in refugee camps was without doubt one of the most instructive parts of my medical training, learning that we should be talking more about what’s going on in the camps around diets, water and sanitation,” says Professor Moodie. 

    He has gone on to a career in public health advocacy and leadership spanning 35 years. In the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic he played a key role in the United Nations’ efforts to warn communities of the growing risk of the epidemic, and more recently, his focus has turned to non-communicable diseases caused by smoking, obesity and excessive alcohol consumption. He says his early medical training has played a critical role in preparing him to work effectively in communities across the globe.

    In its first intake, the MD/MPH program has been successful in attracting high calibre students who are committed to making a difference in public and global health. Thanks to the generosity of donors to the University of Melbourne, each student will undertake their MPH with the support of a full scholarship.

    Ms Sanyü’s commitment to social justice and global health has been realised through her involvement with REACH (Realising Education and Access in Collaborative Health), a student-driven health initiative that promotes social change. Her work with REACH has seen the launch of Australia’s first student-run clinic, a multidisciplinary, after hours service which treats clients from refugee and migrant backgrounds in Melbourne’s northern and western suburbs.

    “Social justice and global health are huge passions of mine. That’s why I chose to study medicine – to work with communities around the world to improve their health through empowerment and sustainable development,” Ms Sanyü says.

    Mr Timothy is the founder of Ubuntu: a student health organisation focusing on improving the health of African communities, both in Australia and Africa. The organisation is currently working to develop an Africa-Australia clinical and reserch student exchange program.

    In his future work, Mr Timothy hopes to draw upon both his expertise in clinical medicine and his knowledge of global health.

    “In the domain of global health, I am particularly interested in health systems development. Whilst in Australia we have the privilege of access to a universal health service in the form of Medicare, in South Africa there is no comparable system,” Mr Timothy says. 

    “At some point, I hope to become involved in the development of a culturally appropriate health system similar to Medicare in South Africa, with a focus on preventative medicine.”