Dr Richard Di Natale recognised with a 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award
Monash University has awarded Dr Richard Di Natale a Distinguished Alumni Award for 2023 in recognition of his outstanding career in medicine, politics and public health.
Richard graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from Monash University in 1993. He pursued an impactful career as a GP and public health specialist before entering Federal Parliament where he served as a Senator and Parliamentary Leader of the Australian Greens. He is currently a public health advisor for cohealth, one of Australia’s largest not-for-profit community health organisations, and is passionate about preventative health care and responding to the health impacts of climate change.
We asked Richard some questions about his time as a Monash University student and his career in both medicine and politics. Here’s what he had to say.
Q. What’s your strongest memory of being a medicine student at Monash?
I was a terrible student in my early years and spent more time playing table tennis and snooker with schoolmates than attending classes. Once I finally got my act together and took it seriously, I met some inspiring teachers and made some great friends. Some of my fondest memories are of times spent together in lecture theatres, having a kick on the oval followed by a beer at the local.
Q. Why did you decide to transition from a medical career to a political career with the Greens?
Rudolf Virchow, the German physician, pathologist, writer and politician said, “Medicine is a social science, and politics is nothing more than medicine on a large scale.” After spending time working in Aboriginal health, I came to understand what he meant. Addressing the social and environmental determinants of health is in large part a political project, so even though I had no background in politics, it seemed a logical step to take off my stethoscope, roll up my sleeves and get political.
Q. How did your medical perspective inform your career as a politician?
Being trained in a scientific discipline is important in helping unpack complicated issues and sift through fact from opinion. My health experience in particular was incredibly valuable in developing health policy and also during parliamentary debates on complex health legislation. My advice to young, aspiring politicians is to develop skills and experience in a field outside of politics and to bring those skills into the parliament to raise the standard of decisions and debate.
Q. What are you discovering in your new role in community health?
I’ve been working across a range of areas, from setting up new primary health services in Tasmania to developing a medically supervised injecting room in the Melbourne CBD. It’s just another reminder of the importance of how decisions made by politicians can affect the lives of vulnerable people.
Q. What changes do you think the health system will need to make to best adapt to climate change?
Climate change will affect all aspects of our lives including the social determinants of good health. Extreme weather and climate-related emergencies like fires, floods and heatwaves will become more common, and we will see increases in food, water and vector-borne diseases. The impacts will be felt most by those who bear the least responsibility, so we have a responsibility to first and foremost support policies that bring down emissions. The health system will need to adapt by increasing our capacity to respond to climate-related emergencies and beefing up our surveillance systems. The health sector is also a significant polluter, so much more needs to be done to ‘green’ the health sector.
Congratulations to Richard on receiving the Distinguished Alumni Award. Read more about his life and career here.