Med Talks: Dr Shane Kelly, CEO Mater Health Services

In the first of a series of conversations with hospital leaders, Professor Robyn Ward caught up with the CEO of Mater Health Services, Dr Shane Kelly.

The pair discussed medical education, the rise of technology and the importance of research in modern healthcare.

Robyn: Could you start by just telling us a little bit about Mater?

Shane: Well the Mater’s been around for over a hundred years, it has its origins in the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, which essentially operated right through the 20th century, from early in the 1900’s until now, and we provide a range of hospital and healthcare services, both private and publicly funded, and we’ve got a large campus here on the South Brisbane site.

We’re about a thousand beds all up and we’ve got smaller hospitals out in Redlands and in Springfield. So we’ve been a long-time provider of hospital and healthcare services to the people in Queensland, and had a long association with The University of Queensland as well.

Robyn: Great, and I know that you’re a doctor yourself, so can you tell me the differences in your mind between when you trained as a medical student and what it’s like for medical students training in your hospitals today?

Shane: Oh they’ve got it so much easier!

Look I actually do think they’ve got great opportunities these days to use a whole range of services, and IT in particular to help their learning, so I think about the fact that when you and I were training in medicine, that there was a lot of didactic tutorials, lectures, lots of reliance on textbooks that were two-dimensional, black and white. The opportunities today are very different, and also I think we’ve gotten better at providing access to clinical areas and to patients to be able to learn on the job if you like. That’s part of the combination of the university experience and the clinical experience to make them good doctors going forward.

Robyn: So how do you see, as a CEO, that medical students really contribute to the life of the hospital and what would your hospital be like if you didn’t have medical students?

Shane: I think it’s well believed in healthcare generally, that the presence of students, and particularly medical students, sharpens the focus of the staff, and that they can actually, by their very presence and their very questioning of the treatment that’s being offered to patients, provide for better patient care and better patient outcomes. And patients actually, by and large, love to provide them their story and their experience, and share that with medical students, and help train medical students, so that’s terrific as well. It also means that we’ve got our own staff who have a role in teaching, and that, to a lot of people, is very rewarding to be able to teach people like medical students in hospitals. I think they are a great addition to the fabric of care in a hospital and health service like ours.

Robyn: And do you see medical students coming through The University of Queensland as your future employees?

Shane: That was going to be my next point! On top of the fact that we think they make a difference by being here, they are our future doctors, and so it’s key, it’s critical that we have a good relationship with them. That they see what we’re trying to do, what our mission and vision and values are and how we’re trying to provide great healthcare for Queenslanders, so that in the back of their mind, they’re thinking “well this is a place I’d like to come back to once I’ve specialised or as part of my specialisation training. I’d love to come back to the Mater and contribute in that way.”

So, yes, they’re as much a customer in that respect as they are young people learning on the job. So we’ve got a responsibility to train for the future, generally speaking, but also, we have a vested interest in them.

Robyn: Yes. And you just mentioned the future there, so I just wondered if you wanted to pan forward a decade and think “what would we have to be doing as a medical student educator to train medical professionals that are going to be fit for purpose ten years from now?”

Shane: Yes I’ve got to say, I’m not good at predicting ten years ahead because in health terms, that’s a long time and a lot can happen. Certainly there are trends that I see happening in healthcare: very much an increase in consumer focus, but also the technology, the drugs and the micro-technology that’s evolving will be available to those current medical students when they’re doctors in the future. It’s very exciting and I think they’re living through a period that provides for a really fascinating and exciting and rapidly changing experience, for them to deliver healthcare.

You don’t have to go back too many years, and the doctors didn’t have a lot in their armamentarium to make a great difference to health outcomes. They have much more now and I think it will be incredibly advanced if you look forward another ten or fifteen years.

Robyn: Yes, everything on an iPhone…

Shane: Everything on an iPhone, but you know, the precision medicine that makes all the 'omics' that you talk about at the university level. They’re really going to change the way patients are treated, the way in which healthcare is delivered, probably the places healthcare is delivered as well, so it looks to me to be quite a different environment in ten or fifteen years’ time, but a very exciting one for our young doctors as medical students.

Robyn: Is there anything you think universities should be doing to sort of speed up the rate at which we’re training students so that they’re better able to work in this modern environment in a hospital, which is, as you say, changing so rapidly.

Shane: It’s incredibly hard, I think, you know it was even hard when you and I were medical students, to cram all that learning into six years. Now there’s so much more knowledge and they’re having to cram it into four postgraduate years. So really now the focus has to be about them being lifetime learners and giving them direction as to how they can make sure that’s their paradigm, rather than having an expectation that in the time that they’re a medical student, they’re going to learn everything they need to know to deliver healthcare.

Robyn: And I think that’s one of the advantages that we talk about at UQ is this ability to ensure that our students are lifelong learners, and part of the formula around that is research, that we’ve embedded them in a research culture, they’ll always be questioning what they’re being asked to do. How important is research, in your mind, to the way a hospital functions every day?

Shane: For us, it’s a centrepiece of our strategy. We have a research institute, so we have a strong focus on medical research here already, but the key part of that current strategy is the greater integration of our healthcare delivery with our research and with our education arms of our organisation because, there’s a lot that’s done in healthcare delivery that doesn’t have a robust evidence base behind it, and what we’re about, is improving that evidence base and changing models of care and changing healthcare delivery to reflect what contemporary knowledge has been gained as a consequence of the research.

Robyn: And so that dialogue between the university and the healthcare system is ever more important.

Shane: It’s tighter and tighter, and I genuinely believe that’s the future, because we have to practice evidence-based medicine, we have to recognise that we need to shorten the period between knowledge gained and practice changed, and it’s been too long in our time, and we just need to crunch that time together.

Robyn: Shane, it’s really been interesting to hear your perspectives around education and research, so thank you very much and keep up the good work.

Shane: My pleasure.


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