Professor Rod McClure

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Meet Professor Rod McClure, the new Dean for the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of New England. Professor McClure is passionate about educating the next generation of medical health professionals in Australia…

Hi Professor McClure. What brought you to Armidale?

A lifetime of experience, a love of the Australian bush, and the homing instincts of the peripatetic traveller. 

In 2016, I was working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, USA. I had landed in that city of about half a million people in a country of over 300 million at the end of a 30-year journey across five continents from a farm in Liverpool Ranges, NSW; where the nearest town of about 100 people, was 10 km from my gate.  

One warm afternoon over a drink at the 57th Fighter Group Restaurant overlooking the Chamblee airport and the CDC buildings beyond, I realised that it was time, after developing expertise in my trade, to make a contribution. It was time to return home. 

What’s involved with your role as Dean?

My role as Dean is to make things possible. Ideas are easy. Selecting the good idea from the many available is sometimes a challenge. Turning ideas into concrete outcomes that benefit people’s health and wellbeing is the hard part, but in essence, that’s my job.  

The Faculty of Medicine and Health has dedicated highly trained staff. Our students are among the best in Australia. Our government, industry and community partners are outstanding. 

My role is to create an environment that allows these great people to deliver great results. This takes some knowledge of context, a collegiate leadership style and appropriate attention to good management standards. But, it mostly takes the people around me. 

My role is to facilitate the activity of people I work with to enable success for students and the communities of which the university is part. 

One of your previous professional roles was with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States. What were some of the highlights of your time there?

When I first arrived in the United States to work in perhaps the largest public health agency in the world, whose purpose was to protect the health of one of the world’s largest populations, my first thoughts were about the size of the task. I very quickly I realised that it is complexity that makes things difficult. The size of a problem is frightening, only because it makes underlying complexity issues so much more evident.  

My key takeaway learning from my time in the US is how to identify key points in a system that have the biggest influence on system behaviour and use this knowledge to drive large scale improvements in population health. 

You have a special interest in medical epidemiology (the incidence, distribution and possible control of injury and disease, in layman’s terms). What is it about this field that intrigues you most?

I started my medical career as a clinician in emergency medicine, waiting ’til people became ill, then treating them one by one. In many cases, I was unable to return patients to the health they had previously enjoyed. And in some cases, road traffic crash incidents, for example, the difference between pre and post incident health status was irretrievably catastrophic. 

My move to epidemiology was all about scale. It was the natural consequence of my search for the point in the health care continuum, where I could intervene to achieve the greatest health benefit for the greatest number.  

How do you feel we’re doing in Australia with our public health system generally – particularly when it comes to potentially preventing/controlling some of our more troublesome diseases?

My focus on working in the parts of the system where I can make the greatest influence is relevant to this question too. Australia is doing well with our public health system, but wherever you are in the world, there is always tremendous scope for improving health outcomes. 

In Australia, there remains huge disparity in health between people from different locations, from different populations and different contexts. For example, rural Australians have a higher prevalence of health risk factors compared to their metropolitan cousins and much-reduced access to healthcare. 

The key challenges for the Australian system are to 1) bring the health of all citizens up to the standard of the most healthy, and 2) push forward the boundaries of knowledge that supports improved health promotion and management.

How important is it for you, being involved with educating our next generation of doctors – especially in a rural area like ours?

Taking responsibility for enabling, educating and training emerging professionals in one’s discipline and setting and monitoring of adherence to ethical, technical and professional standards are defining features of a profession. 

Like all doctors, being involved in these responsibilities is part of my professional DNA. For me personally, this is a hugely important part of my purpose and has become more so over the years as my experience and opportunity to contribute has grown. 

What do you hope to bring to your role as Dean; do you have any special plans moving forward?

Very special plans. I see no reason at all why the health of rural Australians cannot be equal to that of the healthiest people in the country. UNE is currently developing innovative models of healthcare delivery, and the education and training methodologies to support these new innovative models. 

I believe the University of New England can play a lead role in supporting health solutions not only for our communities throughout the New England region but solutions to similarly stretched communities throughout the world.

When you’re not busy with your role at UNE, what are some other activities you enjoy?

First, a range of participatory sporting activities that have changed over the years as age whittles away at my capabilities. My newest excitement has been finding the thriving Armidale Rowing Club, which has generously welcomed this beginner to their regular training sessions on Malpas Dam.  

I also paint. And of course, I love to watch grass grow. As a long-time farmer (albeit one who has worked in the city for 28 of the 30 years he has actually owned his own block of land) the thrill of watching grass actually grow is a joy indeed.

Thanks, Professor McClure.

Interview: Jo Robinson.

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