Interview with Prof Cheryl Jones

Stevenson Chair in Paediatrics and Head of Department Prof Cheryl Jones on the importance of the Faculty's relationships with our partners.

Professor Cheryl Jones, the newly-appointed head of the Department of Paediatrics, has her office on the second floor of the Royal Children’s Hospital, two floors below the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. From the edge of Royal Park, the three titans of the Melbourne children’s campus work closely together to deliver world-class paediatric care, education and research.

“The precinct is fantastic,” says Jones, who took up the post in March after serving as deputy dean of Sydney Medical School. Bringing researchers, educators and clinicians to the same location has brought great benefits – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Clinical, academic and research staff can talk shop informally in cafes, learn what their colleagues are doing, and discover new teaching ideas or ways to put research into practice.

The governance and funding relationships that bind the partners together are complex (and include the Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation, the powerful fundraising arm that is also located in the precinct).  Jones says much work has been done to ensure that all the partners have a say in how the precinct is run and the funds strategically allocated. “It also enables us to identify shared priorities,” she says.

Still, the children’s campus, which is unique in Australia, could work even better than it does, Jones admits. She says although “the strengths outweigh the negatives”, a recent international review of the site found that work led by the University is not always apparent to campus staff – including educational innovations and its outstanding work in global child and adolescent health. The University needs to become more visible and assume responsibility for nurturing the next generation of academic leaders in child and adolescent health.

We share a commitment to child and adolescent health. We are committed to a higher purpose. And that drives a personal sense of growth and a shared connectedness.

She believes a stronger and more strategic connection between the Melbourne children’s campus and the University as a whole would help. “We should acknowledge that we have this great strength in expertise within the Faculty of Medicine and beyond,” says Jones. “That could be brought to tackle issues the campus has identified as important.”

The University is the most traditional of the partners on the campus. Its administrative processes are at times cumbersome – particularly for grant submissions, performance appraisals and staff hires, which are duplicated if there is more than one employer. “If we are to remain relevant at this site, we need to simplify University processes with external partners,” she says. In this way the University will be able to respond more nimbly to “targeted research initiatives or staff recruitment or retention”.

Those clinicians and researchers at the hospital and Murdoch institute who hold honorary professorships and associate professorships value their relationship with the University, but need to “better understand the opportunities brought by a University appointment”, adds Jones. “You have greater freedom to enter the public debate with a university appointment than you do with other employers.”

What unites the partners is a shared vision for all children and adolescents to be healthy, Jones says.  And that, perhaps, is the greatest asset of the children’s campus. “We share a commitment to child and adolescent health. We are committed to a higher purpose. And that drives a personal sense of growth and a shared connectedness.”