Ms Rebecca Keeley
A speech pathologist and rural allied health advocate, Rebecca Keeley is passionate about addressing the inequality of health service provision across Australia.
Having relished her time at St Mark’s College (2012-2014) and eager to develop her skills further, she will be heading to Oxford University later this year to study for a Master of Business Administration degree as a Monash Scholar and as the inaugural recipient of the Ivan Shearer Scholarship – a new scholarship to support St Mark’s Collegians to study at the University of Oxford or University of Cambridge.
Having grown up largely in Darwin, Rebecca fondly recalls exploring the Kakadu and Litchfield national parks. She was often out on the weekends enjoying the outdoors lifestyle of camping and fishing. Part of her childhood was also spent at Coleambally, a small town in the Riverina of NSW where her grandparents were rice farmers. Her love of Australia’s country and her desire to support those communities was to become an enduring part of her life.
Rebecca recalls how encouraging it was to arrive at St Mark’s College as a student in 2012 and “see others chasing opportunities away from home in the ‘big smoke’ but also committed to returning to improve the communities that raised them”. Rebecca was intent to do the same and began her Bachelor of Speech Pathology at Flinders University with an eye to future service in regional Australia.
During her years at St Mark’s, Rebecca embraced all aspects of College life. Elected as Social Secretary for 2014, she reflects that “it taught me some strong foundational project management skills including negotiation and the importance of stakeholder relationships … at the time, I thought I was just getting us access to a new pub, but in hindsight I have realised I was learning the foundational stakeholder engagement skills I would need professionally in the future”. Rebecca was also an active supporter of the newly established Charitable Foundation and fondly remembers participating in events supporting Ronald McDonald House.
After graduation, Rebecca returned to the Northern Territory and commenced working at Royal Darwin Hospital. Here she began to witness firsthand the disparity of allied health services offered to those in rural and remote areas. This impelled her to complete the Rural and Remote Generalist Training Program with James Cook University (2017-2018) – the first speech pathologist to do so – before relocating to the Murrumbidgee Local Health District in rural NSW, in part to care for a family member diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Amongst her professional achievements there has been to found the speech pathology department at Griffith Hospital – something she thinks she would not have had the chance to do if she were working in a metropolitan centre. Her efforts have changed many lives.
Rebecca’s professional roles and her caring role with a family member have reinforced her view that advocacy for change is essential to address the challenges of healthcare service delivery in non-metropolitan areas. Her steps to address the problem include founding Outback Allies, a peer support network for allied health professionals in regional and remote areas, with members from as far afield as Katherine in the Northern Territory, Port Hedland in Western Australia, Goondiwindi in Queensland, and extensively across NSW. The support network has been invaluable as allied health professionals are “more likely to remain in rural areas when they feel they have a place they can seek support without judgement”. Concurrently, she also serves as the leader of a senior citizens exercise program in country NSW.
Rebecca describes how the COVID-19 pandemic was a watershed moment for her belief in the need for systemic reform of healthcare access and provision across Australia. In particular, she recalls the difficulty in equally providing care to rural, remote and First Nations communities while under pandemic restrictions. However, the delivery of telehealth services demonstrated the possibility that change and improvement is possible – particularly with the use of technology. Having witnessed such inequitable access, combined with a passion to make tangible change to the communities that raised her, Rebecca resolved to apply for the MBA program at Oxford University.
Rebecca plans to utilise the knowledge and skills she gains at Oxford to create innovative business models to redesign the way Australia provides allied health services in geographically isolated locations through digital health platforms and systems change. In describing the challenge, Rebecca says “equitable access to healthcare in rural and remote Australia is a social impact problem … and through education and opportunities provided at Oxford, I hope to significantly impact the rural and remote public healthcare space in Australia on my return”. In particular, Rebecca views technology and software as key drivers behind a revitalised and equitable future system.
Such a bold and transformative vision for the future has seen Rebecca become the first allied health professional in 20 years to receive a John Monash Scholarship – one of Australia’s most prestigious postgraduate scholarships. As well as the Tim Fischer John Monash Scholarship, Rebecca has been awarded a Said Foundation Scholarship from Oxford. Together these awards cover some, but not all, the costs of a year studying in Oxford. The Said Foundation Scholarship is awarded to individuals “who demonstrate the potential to become leaders and innovators of change” to enable them to “achieve impact in their professional fields and bring benefits to others”.
It is unsurprising then that Rebecca also recently became the inaugural Ivan Shearer Scholar. A newly established scholarship supporting members of St Mark’s College to study at Oxford or Cambridge, the scholarship was made possible by a generous bequest from the late Professor Ivan Shearer AM RFD (1938-2019), a distinguished international lawyer who was Dean of St Mark’s (1968-71) and later an Honorary Fellow of the College. The Ivan Shearer Scholarship is awarded on the basis of excellence of intellect, character, leadership, and service.
Rebecca states she is “incredibly excited” to be the first Ivan Shearer Scholar, and looks forward in time to helping to establish an Ivan Shearer Scholar Network.
In fact, Rebecca attributes the College’s announcement in 2020 of the creation of the Ivan Shearer Scholarship as prompting her interest in studying in Oxford. In turn, she hopes to help current and future St Mark’s students (including allied health students) to aim high in their study and career aspirations – including, as she aims to do, to bring skills from postgraduate study to help country communities.
A brief Q & A with Rebecca Keeley:
What are your most significant memories of your time at St Mark’s?
The list of significant memories from my time at St Mark’s is endless. But there are a few that were truly life changing for me. I will never forget the first person I met at St Mark’s, after the red eye flight from Darwin, was a second year civil engineering student named Paddy who would end up my fiancé. Absolutely not something I thought I would find day one at college!
How has your time at St Mark’s influenced your life and career since?
St Mark’s allowed me to develop a network of friends from a range of professional backgrounds that I wouldn’t get to experience without having been at College. I always say I’ve got a lawyer on speed dial for every possible area of need I will have in the future, and that’s due to my time at St Mark’s. The ability to be surrounded by a large amount of regional and remote students also assisted my passion for a career working in these geographically isolated areas and allowed me to visit friends in new and exciting areas of remote Australia.
What are your proudest professional or other accomplishments?
I am proud to be the first Ivan Shearer Scholar to be supported by the generosity of the late Ivan Shearer and St Mark’s College to continue my ambitions to study at Oxford University. I have been working in rural and remote health over the duration of my career, both as a speech pathologist clinically and in management roles, and I have been at the coalface of the disparity in the access to services in geographically isolated areas. I am excited to use the opportunities offered to me in the MBA program at Oxford to return to Australia and improve the service delivery for patients and support allied health professionals in these areas.
What endeavour are you most excited about pursuing in the future?
I am incredibly excited to head to Oxford in September. The collegiate system that St Mark’s bases itself on is the Oxbridge model, so I am looking forward to re-entering the collegiate system. I cannot wait to embrace all the opportunities both academically and personally that will be offered in my time overseas.
What personal qualities do you view as being most instrumental to your success?
Kindness, passion and grace are the three qualities that I try and bring to every interaction I have.
Choose three words to encapsulate your time at St Mark’s.
If you could go back in time and give your younger self one piece of advice on that first day at St Mark’s, what would it be?
You might be the only one here alone and without a parent, but you’re about to make a new family you will have for the rest of your life.
What was the most interesting conversation you had in the Dining Hall?
I really appreciated the approach College had with the Dining Hall, and the work done in O’week to reduce social cliques and stereotypical groups. I really enjoyed that I could sit in any seat and talk to anyone from the College, and it felt so normal and comfortable, even if it was someone studying something completely different to me. The “no phones in the dining hall” rule has been something I have continued into all social settings in my life. Phones go in the pile in the middle at dinners or bars and we embrace the conversation.
If you could have dinner with three St Mark’s women of any generation, who would they be and why?
This is impossible to comprehensively answer as there are many Mark’s women I would love to sit down with. But I would have to say Rose Alwyn, the Master from my time at College, Sarah Dowd, a now lifelong Darwin and College friend, and finally, purely to hear her stories, the recently profiled Mrs Betty Lewis.
What are the most important things that should be done to promote gender equality, within Australia and globally?
I believe we are at the beginning of a pivotal shift in the representation of females in top management teams in Australia. We have a long way to go, but it is promising to see women being promoted into executive roles both locally and internationally. You cannot be what you cannot see, and having strong female role models across all industries in Australia will inspire young women and girls to seek leadership opportunities in the future.
Which book would you recommend we read as Collegians before graduating from University?
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is the best book I have had the pleasure of reading. It is about four men who meet at college and their lives into the future. This book haunts me to this day, and a big trigger warning for readers, but it’s the most profound storytelling by an author I have found.
Researched, written, and compiled by Oliver Douglas