CEO of College of Physicians encourages students to aim high

Tuesday 7 August, 2012

Dr Jennifer Alexander

One of Australia’s leading health administrators, Dr Jennifer Alexander, encouraged Warrane residents not to underestimate what they could do in their future careers when she spoke at the College on Wednesday 1 August, 2012.

In particular, the Chief Executive Officer of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians reminded the future professionals that having a university degree carries certain responsibilities.

Dr Alexander said society faced many complex problems which require leadership from university-educated people and urged the students to consider community service as a life-long responsibility.

“Those with a university education have an obligation to be life-long learners,” she said. “When you are finished here your learning is not finished. Maybe it’s never finished.”

She pointed out that this was made necessary partly by the fact that professional knowledge was increasing at an increasingly fast pace. In medicine, for instance, knowledge was doubling every two-to-five years.

Dr Alexander has held many key positions in the Australian health system, including CEO of Health Leaders Network (HLN), General Superintendent (CEO) of Westmead Hospital and Community Health Services, Medical Director and Deputy CEO of St. Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney. She has also recently completed a term as a member of the Council of UNSW.

During her talk she drew attention to the importance of professional ethics, emphasising the need for professional integrity, morality, altruism and dedication to the public good. She said these ideals were at the basis of a social contract between the professions and society.

She said that while many students thought they had a good idea of where their career would take them, many would end up working in areas that they couldn’t even imagine today - something that she had experienced in her transition from medicine to administration.

“Like me you might find yourself working in an area that you never anticipated...” she said. “Remain very curious and keep an open mind.”

Dr Alexander also underlined the important role played by emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills in forging a successful career and the importance of getting to know personal strengths and weaknesses.

She said this involved accepting that we don’t always perform at our best and drew attention to the example of Australia’s famous tennis player Pat Cash. She said he only started to excel after he was told by a sports psychologist that he was trying to play every stroke “as if it was the game”. He later went on to win Wimbledon.

“You have days which are tough..” she said. “The game is a series of strokes. Don’t play the game like every stroke is the game.”

Dr Alexander recommended that residents make the most of their time in College so that they could leave university as a “rounded person”, not somebody with a narrow set of skills.

“You are very privileged in a place like this where some of that is served up to you,” she said.

Finally, she advised students not to neglect their personal lives while they pursued excellence in their professions.

“Your personal life is as important as your professional lives,” she said. “Don’t neglect it.”

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