Tom Parry

LAST month, more than 900 Australians were awarded an Order of Australia as part of the King’s Birthday honours; among those many recipients was a renowned academic with links to Sale.

Professor Jane Gunn received the Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for “distinguished service to medical administration in leadership roles, to tertiary education and research, and to the community”.

Speaking to the Gippsland Times, Prof Gunn said she was “really quite surprised” by the recognition, having been informed of the accolade via email.

“When I did see that email arrive I was like, ‘Whoa, gee, wasn’t expecting that!’ So it was quite a surprise, and I think it’s an amazing honour,” Prof Gunn said.

The proud AO recipient was born in Sale in 1964 as the eldest daughter of local residents Alf and Vi Chown.

She was educated at Airly Primary School, Our Lady of Sion College and Catholic College Sale, earning the Julian Casey Award for Academic Excellence at the latter.

Though an interest in medicine was “really encouraged” by her science teacher at high school, there was no one moment or source of inspiration which drew her to the field: “I think it was something that developed gradually.”

“I remember that we had two very good GPs there that had been big figures in my life growing up – Dr Joe Crosbie, who was the family doctor, and then Dr Phillip Mein,” Prof Gunn said.

Her interaction with both doctors would subsequently inform her decision to study Medicine at the University of Melbourne.

Throughout the course of her career, Prof Gunn has authored more than 215 peer-reviewed publications, and her research has attracted nearly $70 million in funding.

She has attended the University of Oxford and the University of Hong Kong as a visiting academic, and was appointed as the inaugural Visiting Professor to the Scottish School of Primary Care – a virtual school comprising nine Scottish universities – between 2009 and 2012.

In 2017, she was appointed as Deputy Dean of the Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, prior to being promoted to Dean in 2021 – the first woman to assume the role in the university’s 170-year history.

Prof Gunn sees the AO honour as recognition of “a mixture of all of those things”.

“I’m always focused, or trying to (focus), on making a contribution to how we can improve things for the lives of everyone, and their health and wellbeing,” she said.

“And that’s been something that I’ve done in various ways … It’s not given for any one thing, it’s really about your wider contribution to the community…”

Her contributions and achievements are particularly impressive when one considers how male-dominated the field of science is – upon starting her undergraduate degree, women made up less than 45 per cent of medical students at the University of Melbourne.

Today, academics and government are striving to have more women and girls in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

When asked whether she had seen an uptick in women applying for such roles, Prof Gunn replied: “unfortunately not.”

“It’s mixed across different disciplines of STEM, and when you look, you do see that we have a lot of women with a medical degree, for example; we have more women students than male students entering into first year (studies), which is very different from when I started,” Prof Gunn said.

“But if we look at areas like physics or mathematics, we find that the number of women is much lower than it should be, or if we look at engineering.

“If we look at psychology, we have a very, very high proportion of female students, so there’s definitely differences across different STEM areas.

“It is a very male-dominated field, and there’s a lot of work to be done.”