By Lucy Carroll
Paediatric oncologist Associate Professor Tracey O’Brien has been recognised at the AFR Women of Influence Awards for her contributions to innovation in healthcare.
UNSW Conjoint Associate Professor Tracey O’Brien, Director of the Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital at Randwick, was named winner in the category of Innovation at the Australian Financial Review’s 100 Women of Influence Awards on Tuesday night.
Each year, the 100 Women of Influence Awards recognise inspirational women using their influence to make a difference to their communities. Associate Professor O’Brien was awarded for her contributions to improving the lives of sick children and to global cancer research.
The awards, now in their seventh year, cover 10 categories with the aim of identifying a diverse group of women championing change in business and society.
Associate Professor O’Brien, a Conjoint academic from UNSW Medicine’s School of Women’s and Children’s Health, has been working in paediatric oncology for more than 20 years, caring for children and families affected by cancer while driving life-changing cancer research and training medical professionals of the future.
“It is humbling to be awarded the winner in the Innovation category and share the stage with such other inspirational women across diverse industries,” Associate Professor O’Brien said.
Innovation is a word that is often misinterpreted
“Innovation is a word that is often misinterpreted. It is not about paradigm shifting or disrupting ideas, it is about doing something better or smarter. Every member of the Kids Cancer Centre innovates everyday they come to work to try and do better than they did the day before,” Associate Professor O’Brien said. “Small incremental change across many things can have the power to be innovative and transform healthcare. It is my job as leader to try and harness this, scale it up, ensure enough knowledge transfer and make it sustainable. In healthcare we are all innovators, and all have a role to play.”
Associate Professor O’Brien, who is also a Clinical Research Fellow at the Children’s Cancer Institute, was among four UNSW or UNSW-affiliated academic finalists this year, including Professor Louise Chappell, inaugural director of the Australian Human Rights Institute at UNSW; Professor Helen Lochhead, Dean of the Faculty of Built Environment and Robyn Norton, Professor of Public Health and principal director of the George Institute for Global Health.
In 2018, UNSW Pro Vice-Chancellor, Indigenous Professor Megan Davis was named the AFR’s Most Influential Woman and public policy category winner for her role in the process that culminated in the historic Uluru Statement from the Heart.
Associate Professor O’Brien is a key force behind the globally recognised Zero Childhood Cancer program, led by the Children’s Cancer Institute and The Kids Cancer Centre. She is committed to ultimately finding a cure for all children with cancer.
“Innovation never happens in isolation by individuals – it is about teams of people – so celebrating this award with all working in the space of childhood cancer, be it in research, education or care is special for me,” Associate Professor O’Brien said.
“My job is to deliver tomorrow’s care today and never accept anything less than excellence. It is what I would want for my children and it’s what every child with cancer deserves.”
“I am more excited about future possibilities than ever before. Breakthroughs in genomics and better understanding of how cancers grow, targeted drugs that reduce side-effects and even living drugs that harness the power of the body’s own immune system to fight cancer are all having a great impact, improving the lives of children with cancer.”
Associate Professor O’Brien leads a team of 130 clinical and research staff at the Kids Cancer Centre at the Sydney Children’s Hospital. In addition, Tracey is also the director of the Transplant & Cellular therapies program and a leader in the Zero Childhood Cancer Program, Australia’s largest translation research program.
Associate Professor O’Brien received her Executive MBA at the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) at UNSW in 2015. Fellow alumna Katrina Rathie joins Associate Professor O’Brien on the recipient list winning the Board and Management category. Katrina Rathie completed her dual Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Law degrees from UNSW in 1985.