11 March, 2020 Academic

Celebrating International Women’s Day at St Michael’s

On Friday 6 March, the St Michael’s community came together to celebrate International Women’s Day. Students, parents and staff gathered in Dolly’s Café to enjoy a pastry and coffee, hear from our keynote speaker Professor Kelly Phillips, and contribute to the Sacred Heart Mission by donating funds and much-needed toiletries to women experiencing homelessness or disadvantage.

The St Michael’s International Women’s Day event made me feel really supported, and made me proud to attend a progressive, forward-thinking school.Mairead O'Connell-Lacy (10S)

The keynote speech by Professor Kelly Phillips captivated us all. Kelly is an oncologist and researcher at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and Professor of Medicine at the University of Melbourne. She has dedicated her career to the prevention and treatment of breast cancer, and her research and advocacy are strongly focused on equity in healthcare and improving health outcomes for women. We are grateful that we were able to hear her inspiring story.

Kelly’s career journey began at school, noting a love of learning as a signature strength of hers. As the first in her family to complete secondary school, she was encouraged to work hard and to achieve her dreams. For Kelly, education was the key that unlocked her future.

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    Professor Kelly Phillips speaking to the crowd
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    Fadia and Leila Hassoun (6E) at the event

Kelly noted that as a student, it was so important to hear that people believe in you, but it’s even more important to believe in yourself. Kelly spoke of how lucky St Michael’s students are in this regard. As a St Michael’s parent, she has seen how fostering self-belief in students is deeply embedded in the School culture.

After finishing high school, Kelly was excited to begin medical school. As part of her training, she was allocated to a cancer medicine job. Like many, she thought it would be a sad and difficult role, but her experience was quite the opposite, which pushed her to choose cancer as her medical specialty.

It’s really important to try new things, even if you think you won’t like them, because sometimes you will surprise yourself.Professor Kelly Phillips
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    Mr Murray Phyland and Annabelle Hill (12M)
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    Adelaide Cordner (8M) and Rosie Bond (8M)

Kelly spoke of one challenge she faced at medical school. One exam required her to decipher what was wrong with patients without communicating with them, only through a physical examination. Being watched by three older male doctors, she became stressed and for the first time in her life, Kelly failed an exam. Six months later she retook the exam, with a new mindset that she wasn’t going to let anyone stop her. Kelly believes that we can all turn our failures into strengths.

We are all fallible, we won’t always get things right, but we have to have the tenacity and the grit to keep going.Professor Kelly Phillips

Of course, Kelly passed the exam and went on to her deeply rewarding career in cancer medicine. When Kelly started practicing, fewer than 10% of cancer specialists in Australia were women. Now, that number is almost 50%. While this is an excellent achievement, women continue to be underrepresented in many specialties and in senior leadership positions. For example, Kelly was the first female professor of Cancer Medicine in her institution, and this was as recently as 2013.

Kelly’s speech pushed us to think about how we can continue striving to make the world a more equal place. She encouraged the St Michael’s boys to believe in women, and our girls to put their hand up for every opportunity.

Thank you to Professor Kelly Phillips for her inspiring story, and to the staff and students who made this event possible.