Jennifer Martin Profile

Associate Professor Jennifer Martin (New Zealand & Lady Margaret Hall 1993) is Head of the Princess Alexandra Hospital- Clinical School at the University of Queensland. She has specialty training in both internal medicine and clinical pharmacology. She has been involved in developing the curriculum for medical students at several universities. Whilst at the University of Oxford she studied for a Bachelors degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, and had previously graduated from the University of Otago with a degree in Medicine.

Rhodes Project: What is the last book you read for pleasure?

Jennifer Martin: I think it was about twenty years ago, seriously! I spend most of my time reading scientific manuscripts or writing policy documents. That’s very embarrassing because I used to read a lot!

Rhodes Project: What surprised you most about Oxford?

Jennifer Martin: The interest in academia and learning was everywhere. Also the interest in excellence and trying to aim high was surprising. I think where I’d come from it was good enough to be okay, but suddenly in Oxford I was with a whole lot of people who also wanted to do great things and achieve all that they could. So I think it was quite a surprising difference in culture that I hadn’t been prepared for.

Rhodes Project: When did you decide that you wanted to study medicine?

Jennifer Martin: Actually I was quite young. My aunt was a nurse and I’d spent quite a bit of time with her. She used to tell me what the doctors did and I thought that sounded like a really interesting job. It seemed a bit more exciting than what the nurses appeared to do but still involved working in a team and being able to care for people. I guess it sort of changed as I went through my teenage years, though - it became an intellectual pursuit, to want to find something that would really improve people’s healthcare and make a difference.

Rhodes Project: Is there any moment in your career that you’d like to revisit and change?

Jennifer Martin: Yes, I have quite a few of those! One of them is that I came to Oxford to read PPE, because I believed that I could be more effective in healthcare by having a role in healthcare policy and therefore working for government. But I should have really taken a DPhil at Oxford instead of PPE. A lot of my colleagues undertook their DPhil and I think that their experience at Oxford at that sort of level is something you can’t get anywhere else. It just meant that I was delayed four or five years, once I returned to New Zealand, in lifting my scientific standards up to a level where I could do something really good. The second thing is an issue I’m grappling with at the moment -- wondering if you can really improve healthcare by looking after one particular patient. There are a lot of these really big issues, not just in Australia but around the world, and I’m wondering if my decision to stay practising medicine has enabled me to achieve as much as I wanted to achieve. They’re probably the two biggest career decisions that I wish I’d made differently.

Rhodes Project: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Jennifer Martin: There are only two good bits of my job. One of them is actually seeing patients, so I suspect that’s why I’ve stayed in that part of the role. It’s the interactions with other humans and hearing them express their own story in their own way.  It’s humbling, really, to help improve someone’s quality of life. The second thing is teaching. Medical students are from all walks of life now and often very different backgrounds which is quite a change from when I started medical school in 1988. Students are so idealistic, I think, about what they can do and what they can achieve as a doctor. It’s really lovely to see that idealism and you don’t want to dent that, you want to support it.

Rhodes Project: What one topic would you make a compulsory part of the curriculum for medical students that isn’t already in place?

Jennifer Martin: I think they all need to do PPE! I do put a bit of that flavour into lectures because my students need to understand the healthcare context in which they operate. A lot of the courses in our curriculum now involve a bit of medical ethics but it’s not taught by someone who has clinical expertise.  It’s fantastic but sometimes it needs to be integrated into the medical curriculum so I would probably develop a course that gives people a medical basis for politics, philosophy and economics. It would add something for them, I think, once they graduate.

Rhodes Project: How do you think your background gave you a different perspective in economics classes?

Jennifer Martin: I think I gave the discussion quite a different angle to look at and I think I also gained a lot. Looking at it from a welfare economics perspective means that my economics are tied up with ethical principles. I also really enjoyed the theory because it’s intellectually stimulating, as is the mathematics, but I used to sit there and think, ‘what is the relevance of this?’, which raised the level of my thinking about economics and how we maximise our healthcare outcomes for the dollars we’ve got. When I came back to medicine and tried to bring some of my ideas, and also ideas of others from Oxford, into the thinking - just to make us a bit more rigorous - I was kind of seen as a leper.  Now people are realising the importance of marrying economics with some of our traditional work areas to see how we can actually do things better.

Rhodes Project: If you had unlimited resources to address one issue, global or local, what would it be and why?

Jennifer Martin: A really pressing problem in Australia is the health outcomes for our indigenous people. We’ve become aware of the problem only recently because the indigenous health data used to be excluded from our national records. Indigenous health is a blight on our nation. It’s embarrassing to see these people come into hospital with absolutely appalling infections and contagious diseases. Even things like diabetes and heart disease that aren’t being managed properly.

Rhodes Project: What was the last holiday you celebrated and how did you celebrate it?

Jennifer Martin: We saved up six months of leave which is why we’re here, in Germany. I’m doing some research and teaching, and my husband’s doing a PhD here. It’s like a holiday because we’ve taken the kids out of their routines and I’m not working on the weekends so we’re getting away to all sorts of places around Europe. We were in Stuttgart last weekend and we’re in Munich this weekend. It’s a holiday because I don’t have a pager or a phone so it’s hard to get hold of me for the time being!

Rhodes Project: If you could meet one female historical figure, who would it be and why?

Jennifer Martin: I think Hilary Clinton’s an amazing woman. She’s strong and courageous and she stands up for what’s right. I also think Mary Robinson, who was the Irish President and then took a job with the UN refugee agency, is an absolutely incredible lady. I’d like to meet her and talk to her about some of the things that she’s done. Also, Angela Merkel has done an amazing job standing up to the boys in Europe in their nice little cosy club. I admire women who have stood up against the odds and not behaved in a way that the world expects women should behave, but in a very strong way to make the world a better place.

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