Professor Emeritus David Penington AC (MBBS 1949, Hon LLD 1995) has had an illustrious career spanning three continents, including roles as the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Vice Chancellor of the University of Melbourne. Now, through a new scholarship, he’s helping first-year medicine student Jake Laycock set the foundations for his own successful career.
Professor David Penington AC
Through both my education and my professional career, the University of Melbourne has been a central part of my life for many years. I passionately believe that education is the driver of development for our community and that people should have the opportunity to achieve their full potential.
In 1950, halfway through my third year as an undergraduate at Melbourne Medical School, I was awarded a scholarship to Oxford. There, I completed a medical degree and a doctorate, and ended up staying in the United Kingdom for the next twenty years. I went on to do academic work and research at London Hospital, being appointed to senior staff at the age of 33.
I returned to Australia and re-joined the University of Melbourne in 1970, when I was appointed Head of the Department of Medicine at St Vincent’s Hospital. I became Dean of what was then the Faculty of Medicine in 1978. During my time as Dean I reformed the Medical School radically based on my earlier experiences – my focus was to teach people to think about medicine more holistically, rather than just the facts.
I stepped down as Dean in 1985 and was appointed Vice Chancellor of the University of Melbourne in 1988 – a position I would hold until 1995. I’m now an Emeritus Professor. I still have an office at the University – although I haven’t been able to visit it lately due to COVID-19.
I think the MD is a marvellous program. I’ve attended many events and met students who have had support in their education. I have dinner with the Head of Melbourne Medical School each year and I’ve seen what the University does to make a difference to those students’ lives. That’s had a big impact on me.
I think it’s necessary to ensure that people from all different economic and cultural backgrounds achieve their full potential. I wanted this scholarship to support a student who might otherwise have difficulty taking the four-year graduate program.
Jake is a real thinker with an interest in research and in the human aspect of medical practice. He’s a person with real empathy for patients and I think he’ll become a marvellous graduate and contribute to improved health for the wider community. I’ve not been able to meet Jake personally because of the current restrictions on travelling, but I’m quite thrilled and very much looking forward to meeting with him.
I began studying at Melbourne Medical School in Semester 1, 2020. The thing that has stood out to me is the extraordinary extent to which the Medical School goes to ensure they deliver an exceptional program. I’m repeatedly excited by the high calibre of academics that we’re lucky to work with on a day-to-day basis. Even in light of all the challenges 2020 has thrown at us, I’m impressed by how smoothly the School has kept things on course.
If I had to choose a favourite subject, it would be our Case Supported Learning (CSL) classes. On Mondays, we’re presented a hypothetical patient case orientated around that week’s particular learning objectives. We piece together the information we do know and get an idea of all the things we have no idea about (which can be extensive). Throughout the week we build our knowledge so that by Friday we can apply it to our patient scenario. I think of it as the game day in footy! During the week you need to follow through with all your training: cardio, weight sessions, ball drills, so that come kick-off (apologies to the Victorians) you can put them all together as a team.
My favourite thing about Medical School so far has been meeting so many amazing new people. Leaving your friends and family behind and moving interstate, as I did, is a daunting experience.
However, within the first few hours of orientation week, I knew I had made the right choice. I think medicine is such a tough course to set out on that it very much galvanises everyone together.
I came to Melbourne some years ago to visit a friend for the weekend. I had seen photos of the Parkville campus and was familiar with Melbourne Medical School’s position in the world rankings. I had a few hours to kill before my flight and decided to spend the afternoon going for a walk and found myself in the Old Quad. I remember seeing the ivy-covered buildings and imagining all of the brilliant minds that had passed through its doors. I walked by the Florey Institute and then the Doherty. I decided that day that if I could study medicine anywhere, it would be here.
I completed my Honours in neuroscience at the Queensland Brain Institute, supervised by a neurosurgeon and neurologist who specialise in deep brain stimulation. I had my first experience of “real medicine” when I was lucky enough to go into the operating theatre to observe them at work. The patient that day was a woman with Parkinson’s Disease. She was visibly frightened as she needed to be awake when the electrodes were implanted into her brain. She couldn’t turn her head so the neurologist crouched down so that she could see his face and whispered something that only she could hear.
It made her laugh and left a smile on her face. Where there was fear before, now there was trust.
To me, my supervisor had exemplified the very definition of a doctor without even touching a scalpel. The neurosurgeon set to work implanting the stimulating electrodes and then, with the flick of a switch, stimulation was turned on. Like magic, after so many years, this patient stopped shaking. It was that moment that I knew I was pursuing the right path.
When I heard I had been awarded the David Penington scholarship, I couldn’t believe it. The support this scholarship provides is so generous. It liberates me from financial burden and uncertainty while I’m studying so that I can concentrate on achieving my academic potential. Professor Penington is a fascinating man who holds many of the qualities that I hope to incorporate into my own professional identity, and I’m excited to meet with him once the current situation permits. In the meantime, I owe David all the thanks in the world for his support.
By Meegan Waugh