2022 Rhodes Scholar wants to change the health system

2022 Australia-at-large Rhodes Scholar Kathryn Woodward, who is about to graduate with a Doctor of Medicine from Griffith.

An impressive final year Griffith University student, who overcame a cancer diagnosis at 15 before embarking on a medical degree, has been awarded a prestigious 2022 Australia-At-Large Rhodes Scholarship.

Kathryn Woodward will complete her Doctor of Medicine degree from Griffith University this year with Distinction, after completing a Bachelor of Medical Science, also with Distinction in 2017.

She will use the Rhodes Scholarship opportunity to study at Oxford University from late next year, hoping to undertake an MSc International Health and Tropical Medicine followed by MSc Comparative Social Policy.

“2022 will mark 10 years since my cancer diagnosis, be the year I start work as a doctor and now also the year I head over to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar!” she said. 

“2022 is shaping up to be a bit of a full circle year for me.” 

“I am drawn to the field of public health because it encourages doctors to think beyond individual patients and reflect on the bigger picture. It is a field that requires medical professionals to consider the multiple factors that contribute to the health and wellbeing of a population.

Kathryn graduates from her Bachelor of Medical Science degree in 2017 flanked by brothers Jonathan and Ryan

“I have seen the healthcare system from both sides as a patient and doctor-in-training. The reality is that we expect our patients and communities to fit into our health system and way of working. My goal is to ensure that a health system which is tailored and effective for our communities becomes the new normal.”

Vice Chancellor and President Professor Carolyn Evans, herself a Rhodes Scholar, congratulated Kathryn on the opportunity, which is offered to a select group of students across the country each year.

“Kathryn is an outstanding example of academic excellence combined with significant community leadership and contributions to the medical student body,” Professor Evans said.

“She has had an inspiring personal journey, which underpins her strong commitment to driving major change in Australian healthcare.

Griffith Vice Chancellor and President, Professor Carolyn Evans

“The Griffith community is enormously proud of her and I know she will make the most of this wonderful opportunity.”

Kathryn says she determined she would become a doctor at just 13 but it was a diagnosis of Hodgkin Lymphoma at 15, countless rounds of chemotherapy and finally a successful bone marrow transplant that solidified her career aspirations.

“I want to change how we deliver healthcare and promote health within our communities,” she said.

“I see myself as a doctor working within government and as a leader in the NFP sector, to develop programs that change how people engage with healthcare and are empowered to participate in their health.

“Attending Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar will amplify and accelerate my ability to make the change that we need to see in healthcare.

“It will allow me to build the academic foundation for my future in public health as a part of a community of students and academics who are global leaders in their fields.

“Their diverse perspectives are important because we simply can’t tackle these problems from a single angle.

“Finally, as a Rhodes scholar I can demonstrate to other young people facing adversity that they too can use their experiences to create change and make a difference for others.”

During her Doctor of Medicine course, Kathryn completed her third year rural placement in Warwick as part of Griffith’s Rural Longlook Program. The program is a year-long immersion in rural health that is developing the next generation of doctors familiar with the unique challenges facing rural communities. 

As the current deputy chair of CanTeen Australia, Kathryn has built on her experience of being a teenage cancer patient to advocate for others and think strategically about public health medicine.

Kathryn Woodward Rhodes scholar
Kathryn and her mum after her bone marrow transplant

She joined CanTeen’s board of directors three years ago and was instrumental in securing board approval to provide formalised services to CanTeen Aoteroea, which grew the organisation’s financial base and ensured it could give 797 young New Zealanders with cancer much needed tailored social and psychological support.

“Earlier this year, I was involved in a project vaccinating Indigenous teenagers at their local sports hall which demonstrated to me the critical role of such individualised healthcare approaches.

“While rolling up their sleeves for an injection, these young people were engaging in conversations about health in a familiar environment with their peers. I hope to take a similar approach in designing health services with and for the people they serve.”

Kathryn has held leadership and volunteer roles with groups including the Australian Medical Students’ Association, Children’s Health Queensland, Consumer Health Forum of Australia, and Youth Cancer Services.

She has presented at conferences and forums on youth cancer care, youth and Covid, and co-authored Advancing consumer engagement: Supporting, developing and engaging youth leadership in cancer care published in the European Journal of Cancer Care. 

Each year nine Australian Rhodes Scholars are chosen: one for each state, and another three from anywhere in the country, which are known as ‘Australia-at-Large Scholarships’.

They join a community of Rhodes Scholars worldwide, with more than 500 Australian Rhodes Scholars selected since the scheme began.