On a rainy November evening in 2019, Reunion Weekend welcomed alumni and guests from the six schools of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences.
Doctors, dentists, physiotherapists, optometrists, nurses, psychologists and many other health professionals arrived at Wilson Hall to find a scene quite different from their memories of exams and graduation ceremonies. Instead, green walls covered in flowers and lights enclosed a stage with live music (thanks to graduates of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music), a hearty spread and waiters circulating with drinks. Guests shook off the rain and checked their umbrellas and coats. They met old friends and academic staff from across the Faculty, including Heads of Schools and Departments who joined the celebrations.
The full program for Reunion Weekend 2019 included 40 events held over three days. Alongside 17 cohort reunion events for medicine and dentistry alumni, the program included a psychology alumni afternoon tea, a 20-year anniversary celebration for the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, discipline-specific professional development workshops, presentations, networking events and museum and campus tours. The University of Melbourne Parkville campus was host to most events, with others taking place at nearby venues the Prince Alfred Hotel and Naughtons.
While the official opening of Reunion Weekend 2019 continued in Wilson Hall, two cohort reunions took place on campus. Alumni and guests huddled under large umbrellas to reach the Ernie Cropley Sports Pavilion for the MBBS 1974 45-year reunion, where, as one attendee observed, they found “a rowdy bunch” busy catching up. Speeches by reunion champions Dr Alain Lavoipierre (MBBS 1974) and Dr Tony Heinz (MBBS 1974) quieted the room, and Professor John Prins, Head of Melbourne Medical School, spoke about the new shape of the medical curriculum. Next up was a performance of classic pop songs by the Trinity Tiger Tones, an acapella group from Trinity College. The group’s nine-part harmony singing and black-tie choreography was a hit with the class of 1974.
From the registration hub at University House, Professor’s Walk, alumni planned their event attendance for the day.
As part of the Discovery Program, they explored a showcase of Australian Aboriginal cultural heritage objects in the Awaken Exhibition; toured the Medical History Museum, Harry Brookes Anatomy Museum, Metro Tunnel construction site and Systems Garden; took self-guided walks through Billibellary’s Country; and tried MOOG virtual training units at the Melbourne Oral Health Training and Education Centre (MOHTEC).
The Harry Brookes Allen Museum of Anatomy and Pathology
Dr Heather McKenzie, nee Peden (MBBS 1953), started her visit by attending a screening of the Melbourne Medical School documentary, It Started in the Sunderland: “I appreciated the humour. Of course, the triradiate medical building, which the documentary celebrates, was built long after I’d graduated, but the stories were very interesting”.
Following the screening, Heather made her way to Wilson Hall for the Chiron Luncheon, a special gathering of medical alumni who graduated more than 50 years ago.
The Luncheon was hosted by Professor Shitij Kapur, MDHS Dean and Assistant Vice-Chancellor Health, and Professor John Prins, Head of Melbourne Medical School, who thanked guests for continuing the long tradition of reunions within Melbourne Medical School.
Professor Prins emphasised the important contribution of Reunion Champions, cohort representatives who spearhead the planning and ensure invitations reach their often far-flung classmates. He particularly noted the tenacity of MBBS 1948 alumni – who have gathered for lunch regularly since graduation – and thanked the group’s current Reunion Champion, Dr Durham Smith AO (MBBS 1948, MD 1967, MS 1973), for his commitment to the cohort.
Heather is Reunion Champion for MBBS 1953 and appreciated seeing colleagues from neighbouring cohorts. “I loved the lunch – particularly that everything was organised for us,” she said.
Next, Heather found her way to Health Research: Experts in Conversation, a panel discussion on what it means to be human. Professor Shitij Kapur, who had also traversed campus from Wilson Hall to Arts West, was on hand to introduce and moderate the panel. First, Professor Kapur acknowledged the traditional owners of the land, the Wurundjeri people, and described the Ngangkari healing tradition of Australia’s Indigenous people.
“Each generation of healers has felt they were on the cusp of transformative discoveries, which would change how health and medicine happens,” said Professor Kapur, suggesting that perhaps what remains unchanged amid medical advancements is our human nature.
A panel of three experts, Professor Sharon Lewin AO, Director, Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity; Professor Doug Hilton AO (BSc (Hons) 1986, PhD 1990), Director, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI); and Professor Janet McCalman AC (BA (Hons) 1971), Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, explored what it means to be human through the lens of their research interests.
Major themes that emerged from the discussion were life expectancy (as a measure of the success of medicine and society), breakthroughs in science (such as the sequencing of the human genome), collaboration, community and patient advocacy, data and processing speeds, the intergenerational transfer of knowledge and our interdependency as a species.
HEALTH RESEARCH PANEL
In terms of life expectancy, Professor McCalman explained that there is still a penalty for living rurally, living in poverty, or living with a mental illness. She noted that if the gap could be closed on life expectancy for Indigenous Australians, we would have the highest life expectancy in the world.
Support for young people and the security of their futures is essential, and female education, which is still neglected in parts of the world, has been shown over and again to have a profound effect on improved standards of living.
Professor Doug Hilton highlighted the importance of long-term funding to support research for the length of time that is needed to make a real difference. He suggested that early-career researchers are often not as competitive for government grants as their more senior counterparts, and noted the importance of philanthropy in bridging this gap. At the WEHI, he explained, cross-generational research teams give medical students the opportunity to work with graduates from the first half of the 20th century and this intergenerational collaboration is greatly valued.
Professor Sharon Lewin, a world-leading expert on HIV, cited community partnerships and engagement as ground-breaking in fighting the AIDS pandemic. She emphasised that HIV has taught us that – along with scientific advancements and medical treatments – education, prevention, and community advocacy for patients are major forces in our fight against viruses.
Professor Lewin noted the importance of strong public health leadership in combatting infectious diseases. It was a prescient comment given that by February, just three months after the discussion, her team would be the first to replicate the COVID-19 virus outside of China and share the findings with the international research community. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, these practices and partnerships are now in the spotlight.
At the Faculty-wide Happy Hour in Wilson Hall, alumni gathered to share drinks and canapés in celebration of the day’s events and to launch their respective cohort reunions. At University House, Professor’s Walk, MBBS 1989 Reunion Champion Dr Yvonne Ho AM was pleased that their 30-year reunion attained the second highest attendance out of all 17 reunions held over the weekend.
MBBS Class of 1989 reunion celebrations.
“Our cohort had not had a whole-class reunion for three decades! In May 2019, I was in contact with some former classmates to discuss organising a reunion and then, two weeks later, the University emailed with news of the Reunion Weekend 2019.”
Yvonne specialised in radiology and nuclear medicine after graduating and is now a medical doctor who also owns and runs a multi-venue music school. Since her contribution towards the successful MBBS 1989 reunion, Yvonne has been involved in a collaborative effort to create a registry of veterinarian-owned human ventilators for use in the event of a COVID-19 surge. She has been in touch with her cohort in support of this: “If it hadn’t been for our 30-year reunion and my part in organising it, I would have had some challenges getting in touch with my cohort for this purpose.” Yvonne’s fascinating career and family history is detailed in this edition of Chiron.
Meanwhile, across campus, past University Square, four cohorts celebrated their milestone reunions on the tenth floor of University House at the Woodward, with campus and city lights decorating the sky-wide views. Dr Alana Tuxen (BMedSc 2002, MBBS (Hons) 2004), Reunion Champion for the MBBS 2004 15-year reunion, specialised in dermatology after completing her residency year at RMH and now travels regularly from Ballarat to Melbourne for clinics.
“I just love our cohort. It can be hard to keep in touch with everyone, so I was really looking forward to seeing some old friends. People travelled from overseas and interstate. Particularly impressive was one person who had a new baby but still made it to our reunion,” she said.
In helping to share the news of the event with MBBS 2004, Alana did some Googling: “I am just so proud of all the wonderful doctors in our year level and their amazing achievements. I got a snapshot of what our year has been up to and it was really varied and interesting and very inspiring.”
Professor John Prins joined in many events over Reunion Weekend with Reunion Champions and alumni at their respective reunions:
“Our alumni community is a vital part of Melbourne Medical School. As I discussed with alumni at their gatherings, their input and support in upholding the excellent reputation of the School is crucial. I welcome their suggestions in the development of the new Doctor of Medicine curriculum, to ensure it is tailored to the future, while continuing to teach core components. We are truly fortunate to have such experienced and varied medical professionals in our University community, which is exemplified by events like Reunion Weekend.”
Visit the website to keep up to date with future plans for your class reunion.
IN DECEMBER 2019, DR JOHN RIDDELL(MBBS 1953) ORGANISED THE 67TH REUNION FOR MBBS 1952
“On December 7, 2019, four GPs, one orthopaedic surgeon and one gastroenterologist sat down to lunch at Royal South Yarra Lawn Tennis Club. Our average age was 91. Three guests completed our number. Much reminiscing ensued and we toasted absent friends. We represented the 184 graduates of 1952 and in 1947 we were part of the first year to occupy the Mildura Campus of the University of Melbourne. Since graduating, how much every facet of medical practice has changed. God-willing we will repeat our luncheon in 2020.”
MBBS 1952 Reunion celebrations: Liz Swain, Dr David Fone (MBBS 1952, MD 1958), Brenda Fone, Dr Richard Chenoweth (MBBS 1952), Elizabeth Knight, Dr John Riddell, Dr Lindsey Knight (MBBS 1952), Dr John North OAM (MBBS 1952).
Written by Cecilia Dowling