Dean appointment helps define the future of general practice

Morgan Liotta

22/12/2021 9:36:22 AM

As the University of Melbourne’s first female Dean, Professor Jane Gunn has a vision to further connect academic research with general practice.

Professor Jane Gunn
As Dean of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences at the University of Melbourne, every decision Professor Gunn makes is imbedded in her personal experiences as both a GP and researcher.

A future where more GPs are supported to combine research with their clinical practice.
That is what Professor Jane Gunn is envisaging.
After being appointed Interim Dean of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences at the University of Melbourne in February this year, Professor Gunn was officially confirmed in the role on 19 October following a ‘global search’.
She is proud to be the first female Dean at the University of Melbourne. 
‘The role of the Dean is about leadership, bringing people and ideas together, and working with colleagues across the university to provide the best opportunities for our students,’ Professor Gunn tole newsGP.
‘We care about the teaching they receive and that they are exposed to a range of experiences; that could be research, working in clinical settings or working with industry.’
Combining academia and clinical work is what Professor Gunn sees as key to improving Australia’s healthcare system.
‘Primary care research requires research funding that is commensurate with the important role it plays in the delivery of healthcare to our communities,’ she said.
‘As the cornerstone of healthcare and the gateway to a healthier future for our community, [primary care] has shown how central it is over the last two years, flexibly adapting to the challenges presented by COVID-19.
‘I would like to see a more equitable system. I would like to see a future where general practice is a career destination that attracts our most talented graduates, those able to embrace the uncertainty and complexity of general practice and thrive.’
In her role as Dean, Professor Gunn supports the six separate schools within the faculty, working closely with colleagues on strategic themes for the next 5–10 years. The Melbourne Biomedical Precinct, the largest biomedical precinct in the southern hemisphere, also has a number of faculty partners reporting to the Dean.
‘I believe in collaboration and innovation − and teaching our people to be collaborative and innovative,’ Professor Gunn said.
‘So for me, learning is a key to understanding and collaboration is how progress is achieved.’
Much of her research has strengthened Professor Gunn’s academic achievements in linking with general practice.
She was the first person to be awarded a PhD in general practice at the University of Melbourne, and in January 2021, her mental health care research was awarded one of the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) ‘10 of the best’ projects currently underway in Australia.
For three years, she has been appointed a member of the NHMRC Council – a role in which she lends her experience as a GP and academic.
And in her new role as Dean, Professor Gunn hopes to continue linking with and advocating for general practice.
‘General practice is where the human element of medicine starts,’ she said.
‘Academic research into general practice is key to developing a better healthcare system and high-quality research with partners can lead to transformational change and better outcomes for our patients. 
‘Every decision I make as a Dean, is anchored in my own personal experiences as a clinician and researcher.’
According to Professor Gunn, universities have a role to play in reaching a more equitable healthcare system, including taking up the opportunity to lead healthcare in rural and regional settings.
A partnership with La Trobe University and the Victorian State Government to provide end-to-end training in Shepparton is one such project.
‘The Rural Medical Pathway will also help make this possible,’ Professor Gunn said.
‘Coming from a rural setting myself, I have a sense of what these students feel and what is ahead of them. I also recognise the desire to stay connected to one’s own community.’ 
Professor Gunn grew up in the regional Victorian town of Sale. An interest in and admiration for the town’s local GP inspired her to relocate to study in Melbourne, at a time when women made up less than 45% of Melbourne medical students.
But despite her numerous high-profile achievements, Professor Gunn said that much of her success traces back to the grassroots level.
‘My work as a GP has been an important cornerstone of my profession,’ she said.
‘I have seen the area [of general practice] expand [and] I am committed to the evolution of patient-centred care and general practice research.
‘An exemplary GP is responsive, adaptive, open-outward facing and engaged with their profession and community.’
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