Robbie Gillies firmly believes in making the most out of opportunities. While it might seem like a cliché way to view life, the young doctor is proof that making the most of every moment can lead to success and fulfilment.
From studying three postgraduate qualifications to establishing a homeless advocacy program and being awarded a Victorian Young Australian of the Year Award, Robbie has packed a lot into a short time. He came to study a Master of Public Health (MPH) at JCU while on a gap year from studying a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery at a university in Melbourne.
“I had always wanted to do a Master of Public Health,” he said. “I chose JCU because the focus on tropical medicine, infectious diseases, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health is unparalleled.”
Not wanting to experience another dreary Melbourne winter, Robbie relocated to Townsville for the year. From hanging out on The Strand to climbing Castle Hill, he still has fond memories of his time in the North.
“I loved being in a new place and meeting new people from the Master of Public Health,” he said. “There were a lot of people who were older than me and they had had incredible experiences overseas. We had amazing professors and specialists teaching us tropical medicine. All the highlights from my time there are framed by the scenery and the experience of living in beautiful Townsville.”
While based in Townsville, Robbie and his friends made the most of the time to travel, including trips to the north western city of Mt Isa and to remote communities.
“A highlight was going to Mt Isa,” he said. “It was fascinating. The landscape was incredible. We also went to cattle stations that stretched for thousands of kilometres and we were invited to indigenous people’s homes. I loved the culture, the art and the food. We also looked at some of the really difficult social issues they experience. There is some positive and innovate work happening and it was a privilege to get that insight.”
Studying public health has strengthened Robbie’s ability to look at the bigger picture. He is working as a doctor at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne and said the Masters has given him a strong foundation as a junior practitioner.
“Public health is looking at that system level and finding ways to optimise systems,” he said. “The main benefit of studying the MPH, for me, has been the paradigm shift and the way it has opened my mind to system level problems. It has changed the way I perceive health and what I think our goals and outcomes should be. I’m looking forward in the next few years to progressing in my career and reaching a level where I can use this knowledge and perspective to make a positive impact.”
Robbie hopes to specialise in psychiatry and find a way to combine social enterprise with medicine to help improve people’s mental health. He was attracted to the field because psychiatrists are medical specialists who look holistically at a patient, taking their past, present and future into account for treatment.
“Psychiatrists work with many people in disadvantaged populations in a way that is unequalled by other specialisations,” he said. “They work with the homeless, financially disadvantaged, and the refugee population. They work with people who have been dealt a hard hand in life and have the burden of poor mental health. Mental health is an incredibly complex issue and we could be doing better. People are doing really great things in this area, but I don’t think the systems are fully optimised, yet.”
For people considering studying the Master of Public Health, Robbie tells them to embrace the opportunity and enjoy the journey.
“Definitely do it,” he said. “I had zero regrets and it’s an incredible experience. People can get caught up in worrying if extra study will disadvantage them. They're in a rush to get to where they’re going and don’t realise that it's fine to take your time and explore other interests. The opportunity to learn is rewarding in itself. Sometimes it’s worth taking a risk and doing it.”