A University of Melbourne medical graduate has been awarded the prestigious 2013 Australia At Large Rhodes Scholarship, to study global health and improve clinical care.

The Australia At Large Rhodes Scholarship is designed to develop leaders with high intellect, character, leadership and commitment to service and recognises excellence in young people aged 18-25.

Not happy simply to “help people”, Ms Tran who came from a migrant family said her dream was to become a global health leader in clinical care, research and advocacy; to discover, maintain and be responsible for a paradigm shift in healthcare, and help close the gap in inequality of healthcare provision.

Jenny Tran’s parents grew up with poor access to healthcare before they migrated to Australia during the Vietnam War.

“My family background has given me a powerful drive to address healthcare inequality,” she said, adding that her parents’ example of tenacity and resilience had helped shape her success not only academically but also as a Victorian State Championship rower, and in her community work with REACH (Realising Education and Access in Collaborative Health), of which she is a director.

Ms Tran said she hoped to study for a Master of Science in Global Health Sciences at Oxford University’s prestigious Department of Public Health.

In addition to her family’s migration experiences, Ms Tran said the patients she meets in the REACH student-run clinic who come from disadvantaged areas of western Melbourne had inspired her to challenge the barriers to access of health services facing many new immigrants to Australia.

“One memorable patient was a 21-year old Iranian man, confusing his birthday with his appointment because of language barriers – the first of many potential issues people face accessing Australian healthcare,” she said.

“He spoke little and was scarred from his asylum experiences. Seeing his suffering strengthened my belief that quality healthcare is not only about clinical care in the moment. His situation, and many other migrants’, could be prevented by a system prioritising health maintenance and accessibility. Health reforms, professional education, patient advocacy and research need to take front-stage to make significant differences in healthcare systems.”

Ms Tran has also been a student at the University of Melbourne’s Western Clinical School, where the exposure to patients from diverse backgrounds, the supportive community of students and staff and strong culture of collaboration have helped her form a vision to improve health care inequality.

In the future, Ms Tran looks forward to the range of opportunities to specialise, having a broad range of experiences including paediatrics and plastic surgery.

Dean of Medicine and Chair of the Rhodes Committee in Victoria Professor Jim Angus said Ms Tran’s background placed her in prime position to make an empathetic and informed contribution to the health of those whose experiences with health care system is often restricted.

“Ms Tran has the drive and vision to make a real difference to health and well-being in society. I will watch her career with much anticipation and high expectations,” he said.