Visionary leader: Professor Christine Kilpatrick

Professor Christine Kilpatrick (MBBS 1976, MD 1986, MBA 2007, DMedSc (Hon) 2016) has used her clinical experience to carve a brilliant career in health leadership and management.

Photo of Christine Kilpatrick

These days she is known as a transformative business leader, but when Professor Christine Kilpatrick first moved from treating epilepsy patients into a health executive management role, some of her colleagues thought it was an ‘unwise’ decision.

“They saw management as going to the dark side,” recalls Professor Kilpatrick. “They couldn’t quite grasp why anyone would choose to do that. But I did and it’s been the best decision I’ve made.”

Professor Kilpatrick has not taken a backward step since. In 2017, she was appointed Chief Executive of Melbourne Health, which provides healthcare through the Royal Melbourne Hospital and NorthWestern Mental Health. She has excelled in some of Victoria’s most important health management roles and helped to shape a range of healthcare systems.

In some ways, she pioneered a trend that now sees young people experience a range of careers. “In my day you left school, did well enough at school and went into medicine,” she says. “That’s changed.”

Professor Kilpatrick has fond memories of her time studying at the University of Melbourne, particularly the medical rounds but recalls feeling acutely aware of her gender. Up to 25 per cent of medical students were female, but they were treated differently to the male students.

“Female medical students were still considered a novelty … it was thought that you must have had some extra drive to want to do it, which of course is incorrect.”

None of this impeded Professor Kilpatrick’s progress and she trained and specialised in neurology and epilepsy through the Royal Melbourne Hospital. She spent 11 years leading the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s epilepsy program, and was the inaugural Chair of Victorian Epilepsy Centres, established to increase collaboration between the centres to enhance research and education.

Around 2000, she became Chair of the Senior Medical Staff at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and Chair of the MLC Board, a move that opened her eyes to management. In 2005, when she became Melbourne Health’s Executive Director Medical Services, she realised she could make a difference on a broader scale.

“In these roles, you really focus more on cohorts of patients and on the system itself,” she says. “I find the system and the bigger picture rewarding and very interesting.”

As CEO of the Royal Children’s Hospital from 2008–2017, Professor Kilpatrick oversaw the momentous 2011 move into the new building. She relished the challenge and felt the responsibility of leading one of Australia’s most revered institutions.

“I think there’s an added pressure from the community and from families, quite rightly,” she explains. “Good societies, of course, always look after their children.”

Professor Kilpatrick’s team at the Royal Children’s Hospital developed an improved care model for patients with complex needs and implemented an electronic medical record. She is now working on a similar electronic medical record project at Melbourne Health.

“The same system will run at The Royal Melbourne Hospital, Royal Women’s Hospital, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and Royal Children’s,” she says.

The University of Melbourne remains close to Professor Kilpatrick’s heart. She is an Honorary Professorial Fellow in the Department of Medicine and in 2016 she was awarded a Doctor of Medical Science (honoris causa).

She was one of several family members to study at the University. Her late father, Stanley George Hogg QC (BCom 1945, LLB 1950, LLM 1954), completed his legal studies at Melbourne, as did her older sister Kathryn Kings (LLB 1972, LLM 1983) – now a County Court Judge.

Professor Kilpatrick’s late husband Graeme (BDSc 1975) and their daughters Victoria (BCA 2010, PGDipTeach(Sec) 2012, MTeach 2012) and Julia (BCom 2010, LLB 2010) also attended the University.

Balancing family and her career – as well as several board positions and directorships – was tricky early on when it was still unusual for women to pursue medicine.

These days, Professor Kilpatrick says, the situation for women in senior positions is “different” rather than easier. They may have more workplace flexibility, but challenges remain.

“Partners are now much more involved in the care, but it’s always going to be hard to do everything,” she says. “You just have to do what works for you.”

After creating a wonderful legacy at several iconic Melbourne institutions, Professor Kilpatrick loves the idea of others bringing a clinical perspective to administration. She is a strong advocate for exploring the different career trajectories a medical degree can offer.

“There are lots of different ways you can use your training. I’d encourage anyone to make a change if that’s what they want to do.”