A student placement in a Nepalese hospital changed the course of Professor Russell Gruen’s (PhD(Med) ’05) life and kindled a determination to forge an uncharted career path.
‘I was doing a mixture of reconstructive surgery and public health as a medical student and I came back committed to a career in both areas, because of their importance in shaping people’s lives,’ said Professor Gruen.
Training as a surgeon, with a focus on developing skills to excise and reconstruct, he continued to look for opportunities to have an impact in public health. Several years passed when an opportunity presented itself to study at the Flinders University Clinical School in Darwin.
‘I became one of the few people in the world with expertise in surgery and a PhD in public health,’ he said. ‘The intersection of surgery and public health was just becoming a hot topic globally and several papers from the PhD were published in some of the world’s leading medical journals.’
Professor Gruen spent a year at Harvard as a Harkness Fellow in Health Policy and a Fellow in Medical Ethics after graduating from Flinders. He then spent 10 years combining a surgery practice and public health policy development, working at the University of Melbourne and then Monash University.
In 2015, he was recruited by Nanyang Technological University in Singapore to lead interdisciplinary research, drawing together clinicians and engineers to solve large and complex health-related challenges.
Later, in January 2019 Professor Gruen was appointed Dean of the College of Health and Medicine at Australian National University in Canberra. He also continued his passion for surgery with a fractional appointment as General Surgeon at The Canberra Hospital.
‘Interdisciplinary research has captured a lot of attention – most universities want to do it, but it is hard to do it well,’ he said.
‘Academics from different streams often work in silos, having relatively little interaction with people from other fields who may walk in different corridors, use different vocabulary, and may approach problems differently. Interdisciplinary research necessitates breaking down these barriers.’