Welcome from the Dean

It goes without saying that a lot has happened since this time last year. First, we experienced the devastating bushfire season and what felt like immediately after, COVID-19 hit our shores, something we knew was coming, but were hoping wouldn’t.

Photo of the Dean in front of the Old Quad

In some ways it feels like everything has changed. ‘Social distancing’, ‘self-quarantining’ and ‘the new normal’ were just concepts on our periphery, now it seems they’re everyday life.

In other ways though, this chaotic and challenging time has highlighted some of the things that we in the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences know all too well. In particular, how essential our work and research are to all aspects of health and society, and of course how central frontline heath workers are in times of crisis. Many of these stories you will be able to read about in this edition of Chiron.

The outstanding leadership that our alums have shown in the face of this global crisis has been nothing short of exceptional. Australians and Victorians have turned to the advice of Professor Brendan Murphy (MBBS 1978, PhD 1990) our country’s Chief Medical Officer and Professor Brett Sutton (MBBS 1993), Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, both of whom have regularly graced our TV screens. While those in the Northern Territory, which has fared particularly well, turned to one of our own in Dr Hugh Heggie (BSc 1980, MBBS 1980). We are also incredibly proud of Associate Professor Ruth Vine (MBBS 1980, GDipPsychMed 1990, GDipArts(Crim) 1994) who recently accepted the position of Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health at the Commonwealth Department of Health. Her role will be pivotal as we prepare to address Australia’s mental health response to the pandemic recovery; a recovery that will no doubt be a long and winding road. We wish her well in this role.

Stories of other alumni making extraordinary contributions, both to the COVID-19 fight and in other areas, have been particularly great to see.

The Peter Doherty Institute has been at the forefront of this battle and has put the work of Melbourne researchers on the global map. They continue to lead the way in the development and testing of treatments and a potential vaccine. Even our engineers and scientists have adapted and innovated by creating ventilator hoods and 3D printed personal protective equipment (PPE) for our healthcare workers.

Internally, the work done behind the scenes here in the Faculty and within Melbourne Medical School has been second to none. Professor John Prins’s leadership in establishing SASH Students’ Assistance in Supporting Healthcare and the ‘army of student doctors’ who were willing to step up during the pandemic has been outstanding. Our students’ eagerness to help in times of crisis made us exceptionally proud.

Our Faculty, alongside our colleagues from the Group of Eight (Go8) also led the national COVID-19 Roadmap to Recovery to help guide Australia out of the pandemic crisis. The report, which was presented to the Federal Government, is a fantastic example of interdisciplinary and cross-university collaboration, something that we are very proud of.

This year, notwithstanding the dual shocks of the bushfires and the pandemic, the University of Melbourne released its strategy for the next ten years. Advancing Melbourne 2030 outlines our direction and aspirations for the next decade.

The strategy sets out five key focus areas - Place, Community, Education, Discovery and Global – and was developed in consultation with staff, students, alumni and key stakeholders.

It seems like a while ago now, but 2019 also saw our second Reunion Weekend

for Melbourne Medical School alumni. The weekend of festivities was a huge success and saw many people celebrate their milestone reunions, but also allowed alumni to participate in the Health Research Panel Discussion, tours and open house events around campus and many other social activities over the two-day program. We are still working out what combination of virtual and real will be used to celebrate reunions this year. But, I can assure, celebrate and commemorate we will.

In summary, I commend the leadership of the Melbourne Medical School, Professor John Prins and his team on what has been an exceptional response to a turbulent 12 months. We look forward to a smoother year ahead and hope to see you all again soon.

Professor Shitij Kapur
Dean, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences
Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Health)