ANU teachers awarded for practical approach to student learning

15 December 2017

A lecturer at The Australian National University (ANU) who helps medical students learn from patients at a refugee health centre, and an engineer who takes students to disadvantaged communities to solve real world problems, have been recognised among Australia’s best teachers.

ANU has won five coveted 2017 Australian Awards for University Teaching, announced by Minister for Education and Training, Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham.

The ANU winners are Associate Professor Katrina Anderson (ANU Medical School), Dr Jason Payne (ANU Research School of Social Sciences), Dr Anna Von Reibnitz (ANU School of Finance and Applied Statistics), Jeremy Smith (ANU Research School of Engineering), and Dr John Debs (ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering).

Dr Anderson, an experienced GP, teaches young doctors and medical students to be compassionate and to treat patients holistically, rather than just treat the disease.

Dr Anderson works with refugees at Companion House in Canberra, where young doctors also learn how to listen and empathise with patients.

“Medicine is about an encounter between two people,” Dr Anderson said. “Patients are the people who teach us so much of how to be a good doctor. Doctors are often not listening to patients very well.

“I became really passionate about this whole environment and how we can create doctors who are really patient-centred and actually listen to patients and grow and learn just as much from their patients as from each other.”

ANU Doctor of Medicine and Surgery student Hamed Shahnam said Dr Anderson was an inspiring teacher.

“She has opened my eyes that a patient is not just a diagnosis but also encompasses a wide variety of other aspects of their health, whether socio-economic, cultural influences, political influences,” he said.

“This has really come across for me having spent time with her in her clinics in Companion House, which looks after a lot of the refugee population in Canberra. It’s been a really eye-opening experience to see that the more holistic approach to patient care, not just the science and the hard medicine.”

ANU Research School of Engineering lecturer Jeremy Smith has pioneered a humanitarian approach to engineering education by taking students to communities overseas and domestically where students apply their knowledge to help solve real-world problems.

“My teaching philosophy is inspired by the power of engineering to transform lives and create positive change for individuals and entire communities,” Mr Smith said.

“The need for positive change is urgent, with hundreds of millions of people lacking access to water, shelter, energy and health care and every country, including Australia, vulnerable to natural disasters and the consequences of climate change.

“Engineering and technology can address these challenges and risks, but only when engineers place human wellbeing at the centre of their practice.”

Bachelor of Engineering (Hons) student Angharad Llewyellyn said the humanitarian approach to engineering had inspired her to pursue her engineering studies.

“It gave a real life application of engineering in day-to-day context and how you can really make a difference both in the local community, domestically and overseas. And so it was from taking this subject that I decided I really wanted to stick to engineering and really progress with it,” she said.

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt congratulated the Awards for Teaching Excellence winners.

“ANU strives to provide the best possible student experience and relies upon the amazing work of our exceptional teachers,” Professor Schmidt said.

“On behalf of the University, I congratulate Katrina, Jason, Anna, Jeremy and John on their well-deserved recognition.”