Pursuing social justice in medicine

Photo of Liam McBride Kelly, Bill Nicholes Scholarship Recipient

As a first year ANU Medical School student, Liam McBride Kelly shares with us why he chose ANU Medical School, his hopes for the future and what the Bill Nicholes "Willigobung Scholarship" means to him.

A passion for science

Growing up Liam had a passion for science, enjoyed working under pressure and solving technical and logistical challenges. The idea of becoming a medical doctor didn’t cross his mind until he was at university studying engineering.  “I realised I wanted to do something where I could see the people I was helping. When I was a teenager I was hospitalised and that experience had an impact on me. Empathetic doctors had explained my care so well that I felt like I was a partner in the healthcare team. I realised that in medicine I could combine my interest in social justice with my interest in technical problem solving, making a meaningful social contribution.” It was that moment of inspiration that led to Liam transferring to biomedical science and, despite never having studied biology, he fell in love with the field.

ANU Medical School, Liam’s No. 1 choice

One of the things that attracted Liam away from his hometown of Brisbane to ANU Medical School was the small cohort size. “In my undergraduate degree, I studied as one of 1000 students. I wanted to come to a smaller medical school so that I could become part of a community. So far ANU has absolutely lived up to its reputation of having an inclusive and collaborative medical school community. Students help each other, both within and between the year levels. Peer tutoring sessions are being run by other first years, and later year students have been helping us with clinical and history taking skills. This culture of collaboration is really refreshing.”

“At orientation, I was very impressed at how directly the medical school discussed bullying and mental health difficulties within the profession. I am thankful to be studying at an institution with a genuine commitment to addressing these issues.”

Strong social conscience

Liam also values the Indigenous Health Stream offering in the medical program. “In my undergraduate degree I became very interested in the social determinants of health, and how these underpin the healthcare gap we see in Australia. I think that an understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health is a fundamental competency for medical practice in Australia.”

In addition, volunteer work with people from refugee backgrounds has allowed Liam to gain insight into the impact of persecution, trauma and resettlement challenges on the physical and mental health of refugees. “I can see a profound role for doctors as advocates for structural change. Of course, to be effective and culturally safe such advocacy must be self-determined, rowing against paternalism. These volunteering experiences have developed my interest in pursuing social justice in medicine.”

Grateful to Bill Nicholes for the scholarship

“I am deeply thankful for the incredible generosity of Mr Bill Nicholes in creating this scholarship. It has quite literally changed my life, allowing me to invest my energies in all the opportunities before me. I’m helping explore online alternatives to the annual Close the Gap Conference in light of COVID-19, and will be working with the Global Health Society on issues related to the health of refugees and asylum seekers. I hope to develop collaborative and respectful relationships with relevant NGOs, community leaders, researchers and clinicians, providing students with further opportunities to explore the social determinants of health.”  

Longer term, Liam would like to undertake unpaid internships during his studies related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, as well as refugee and asylum seeker health.

We congratulate Liam on his award and wish him every success in all that he undertakes at ANU Medical School.


About the Bill Nicholes “Willigobung Scholarship for Medicine”

Bill Nicholes lived and worked on his family’s farm, Willigobung, near Tumbarumba in New South Wales, for most of his life.  He also cared for his elderly parents at the farm as their health deteriorated.  Bill’s experiences caring for his parents and his own medical conditions most likely contributed to his decision to leave a generous bequest of more than $4.2 million to support graduate medicine students at ANU.