The Governor of NSW, Margaret Beazley, has announced UNSW Medicine & Health’s Mudith Jayasekara as the NSW Rhodes Scholar Elect for 2022 and Rosemary Kirk as one of the Australia-at-Large recipients. The Rhodes Scholarship is the oldest and possibly the most prestigious international scholarship program, enabling outstanding young people to study at Oxford University.
Dr Jayasekara plans to undertake a Master of Science (MSc) in Applied Digital Health followed by a Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil) with the Oxford Institute of Biomedical Engineering. He says the brand-new MSc in 2022 “creates a highly relevant interdisciplinary learning experience spanning medicine, social science, engineering, artificial intelligence and data science”.
“I feel so grateful for all those around me who have inspired, supported and encouraged me throughout the years. Family, friends, teachers, mentors, colleagues, training partners, the list is endless, and I know that these people are the reason I am so optimistic about the future. I can’t wait to maximise the opportunities of the Rhodes experience and drive healthcare forward,” he said.
Dr Kirk intends to study a DPhil in Medical Sciences at Oxford, focusing on treatments for genetic heart disease.
“Just going through the application process for the scholarship was immensely valuable. I really appreciated the opportunity to take pause and deeply consider what I want to do in the future and what changes I would like to see in the world, and to unpack these ideas with the other candidates and the interview panel,” she said.
“To have received the scholarship still feels surreal. It’s an absolute honour to have been selected and I cannot wait to get to Oxford and make the most of this opportunity.”
The Dean of UNSW Medicine & Health, Professor Vlado Perkovic, applauded Dr Jayasekara and Dr Kirk’s achievements.
“We know we have outstanding students at Medicine & Health and are regularly reminded of this, but this is a superb external recognition for Mudith and Rosie. This will strengthen the opportunities they’ll have to change the world and we all look forward to watching that happen,” Professor Vlado Perkovic said.
Professor Merlin Crossley, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic, who did a degree in biomedical research as a Rhodes Scholar in Oxford in the late 80s, congratulated both recipients.
“We have students of extraordinary capability in our medical program. Both Mudith and Rosemary have thrived at UNSW and I am sure they will also prosper in Oxford and go on to make a huge contribution to society,” Prof. Crossley said.
Dr Jayasekara says his vision is to “fuse a deep, fundamental understanding of medicine and technology to build scalable solutions that democratise surgery and other forms of healthcare worldwide”.
“Post Oxford, I hope to resume clinical practice and train as a neurosurgeon while working on innovative solutions in all aspects of healthcare delivery. I am inspired by the work of people like Dr Atul Gawande who balance their clinical work, and role as an innovative and valuable public health leader,” he said.
Currently a junior doctor at Royal North Shore Hospital, Dr Jayasekara said his six years at UNSW Medicine & Health were invaluable.
“The faculty and program structure provided such an incredibly supportive and stimulating environment that allowed for effective high-yield learning while forming life-long friendships and experiences. UNSW was also amazing at facilitating a balanced university experience, including supporting my pole-vaulting pursuits through the growing Elite Athlete Program.”
During his degree, he attended international electives, including Paediatric Neurosurgery at Great Ormond St Hospital in London in 2020 and shadowed the team physician for the New York Giants NFL Team in New York in 2019. As an elite pole vaulter, Dr Jayasekara represented Australia as youth athlete, was a two-times national champion for his age and a NSW senior state champion.
Frustrated with the inequity within the schooling system and disappointed with the limited reach of face-to-face teaching, he was part of the founding team of Ethical Education – a not-for-profit that digitally connects volunteer tutors with means-tested students across Australia. Inspired by the reach of scalable education, he is also working as part of the executive team of Project Planet (@projectplanetaus), a not-for-profit building a digital ecosystem to educate and engage Australians about the challenges and opportunities of ambitious climate action.
After completing her DPhil, Dr Kirk’s plan is to return to Australia and finish her clinical training.
“Ultimately, I want to be a clinician-scientist working on treating genetic disease. I want to contribute to this exciting field as the genetic revolution goes beyond genetic diagnosis to genetic treatments that can prevent or cure previously untreatable diseases. I also want to contribute to the way these advances are made. We need to ensure that new genetic technologies are introduced ethically and equitably, and through dialogue with the wider community.”
Dr Kirk, who is currently working as a junior doctor at Westmead Hospital, said she loved her time studying medicine at UNSW.
“It’s such a stimulating environment filled with interesting and kind people. It provided me with such diversity of experience through different clinical placements in Sydney, a year in Albury-Wodonga and a research year in the lab,” she said.
“Most of all, I value the many different people I got to meet throughout my degree, the friendships I made and the mentors I gained.”
Dr Kirk moved from Canberra to Sydney for university. During her degree she had the opportunity to do an Honours project at the Victor Chang Institute with Professor Sally Dunwoodie, looking at genetic causes of congenital heart disease. She also did a medical elective in cardiology through the University of Oxford, where she met some of the clinician-scientists she hopes to work with.
Outside her studies, she said she enjoyed being involved in teaching students at different levels, and writing and editing for a few student journals. Dr Kirk graduated from UNSW in 2020 with the University Medal.
Rhodes Scholars are chosen on the basis of exceptional intellect, character, leadership and commitment to service. Each year, about 100 scholars are selected from around 60 countries, including up to nine from Australia – one for each state, plus three Australia-at-Large awards.