Infectious disease specialist Victoria Hall is passionate about her work, which has seen her study in India and contribute to local and international approval of a third COVID-19 vaccine dose for immunocompromised patients.
Victoria Hall has studied in third world countries and contributed to ground-breaking COVID-19 vaccine research. Now an infectious diseases physician at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, she graduated with a Bachelor of Medical Science in 2009 and an MBBS in 2011.
Why the University of Melbourne?
I took a gap year after finishing high school and worked in the UK before starting university. On returning, I still had a strong sense of challenge and adventure, so I was excited to come to Melbourne to pursue undergraduate medicine.
What are your strongest memories of university?
My time at the University of Melbourne was really in three parts. The first three years I spent on campus as a pre-clinical undergraduate student. This was a really special time where I have made lasting friendships, especially from the back row in lecture theatres or emergency snacks after anatomy class.
I then was fortunate enough to participate in the International Health subject from the Nossal Institute of Health. Our class of 12 students travelled to Jamkhed Primary Healthcare course, rural Maharashtra, India, and then split off to perform research in several parts of India, Nepal and South East Asia.
I was located in Herbertpur, Uttarakhand, India – the foothills of the Himalayas – for six weeks to complete data collection in health-seeking behaviours of mothers for their children under five.
The final two and half years were off campus, where we started to learn clinical medicine. I still remember the day I was able to clerk a patient who was a returned traveller from overseas with a fever. I knew after seeing this patient that Infectious Diseases was the specialty for me.
Who motivated you at university?
My fellow university students. I found their drive, interest, curiosity, and motivation to be there and learn inspiring. I think this remains true even once you graduate.
What goals did you set, and have you stuck to that plan?
I completed a Master of Public Health in 2020, which I studied during my clinical medicine years. This was a goal of mine as it felt complimentary to my current clinical ID role and acted as an introduction to epidemiology and biostatistics.
One of my goals was always to work overseas after my specialty training. I did stick to this (despite the pandemic) and went to Toronto, Canada from June 2020-Dec 2021, where I completed a clinical and research fellowship in Transplant and Oncology Infectious Diseases through the University of Toronto.
Given my strong interest in research and becoming an independent clinician-scientist, my current goal is to complete a PhD. I have returned to the University of Melbourne and am based at the Peter MacCallum and Doherty Institute in my first year as a full-time PhD student – so watch this space!
Tell us more about your role and how university helped you prepare for it.
I am a consultant physician specialising in Infectious Diseases. I work at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, where I am also pursuing a PhD, and Bendigo Health and Epworth Richmond.
Studying at the University of Melbourne has helped me by teaching skills of independent learning, always asking questions, work ethic and organisation.
What does a normal day at work look like for you?
I am working between three different hospitals and doing my PhD at one of these. I have two projects open and recruiting, so this is taking most of my time and focus.
I also am working in outpatient clinics and will do some weeks on inpatient ward service, as well as an antimicrobial stewardship round. The variability of my job is something I really like about medicine – there is never a dull moment.
How has your mentor supported you to succeed?
I have a number of mentors. The most important thing for me is that I feel as if I can call them at any time for advice. I know that they have my best interests at heart and that they will give me independent, honest advice. They have also taught me the three As of approachability, accessibility and affability.
What are some career highlights and what’s next?
My fellowship at Toronto General and Princess Margaret Hospitals. They are high-volume transplant academic medical centres with international reputations and leaders in their respective fields.
It was extremely busy – sometimes with 40 active patients that we were following, and 10-15 new referrals per day. I learnt to prioritise, and manage my day, and to be organised. I stayed on after my fellowship and did some attending work for six months.
The research opportunities were also a highlight. My supervisors, Dr Atul Humar and Dr Deepali Kumar, are expert clinician-researchers in viral infections in the immunocompromised patient. We formulated a protocol to study COVID-19 vaccine immune response in solid organ transplant patients and health care workers.
This led to a number of important research publications, as well as practice-changing research that led to FDA and then TGA approval of a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine in immunocompromised patients. This was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on August 11, 2021.
The following day, it received FDA approval.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
I have an excellent mentor from my time in Toronto who you could sit down with most days for advice – clinical medicine, research or life were all possible topics. Some of the best advice has been "do not worry about things you cannot change.”
What advice do you have for current students?
There is a lot of pressure on students to perform, to do research, to build their CV. I know it is competitive. But I think it is really important to remember along the way to enjoy life and to do other things. The journey is just as important as the destination. Enjoy it and enjoy your own path.
What excites you most about the future?
I really enjoy my work and the subspecialty of immunocompromised infectious diseases. There is a real opportunity to expand and strengthen this in Australia, and for international recognition. I would like to continue to perform translational research, and clinical trials.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted our specialty and put us at the forefront of medicine, both clinically and in research. We should build on this opportunity and continue to take an interest in pandemic respiratory viruses – for the benefit of the medical and broader community and our patients.