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Professor Jayashri Kulkarni's reflections on the team's anniversary
I was very proud to be the first ever academic at Dandenong Hospital in 1994. My title was ‘Associate Professor/Director of Psychiatry
at Dandenong Area Mental Health Service’ and I started my new job determined to set up a psychiatry research centre at Dandenong, as well as provide direct translation of research findings into the clinical service. I began work at Dandenong in mid-January and was delighted that the hospital CEO provided me with a research grant to employ one research assistant, as well as providing a research office plus a small seminar room. The CEO of Dandenong Hospital at that time was eager to support research and he took great interest in all the ‘firsts’ that we achieved at Dandenong. I had been conducting psychoneuroendocrine work in schizophrenia at the Mental Health Research Institute and Royal Park Hospital in Parkville as an NHMRC Senior Research Fellow and wanted to continue this work. Thus I advertised for a research assistant with nursing experience. Anthony de Castella, a very young lad in 1994, was fresh out of Nursing School and applied for the position along with six others. Right from the start I was impressed by Anthony’s honest, respectful, gentle, humble and kind manner. Although he didn’t have much nursing experience he spoke about patients with great kindness and so I called him back for a second interview. He arrived for the second interview profusely sweating and red in the face. Later I learned that his car had broken down and he had run considerable distance in his suit and tie to get to the interview on time! I offered him the job and spent 10 minutes assuring him that I was not joking, and that the job was real! The rest is as they say ‘history’. Anthony transitioned from research assistant to research manager with a hugely increasing portfolio of jobs, including budget management, strategic planning, personnel management and general operational management.
I first met Paul Fitzgerald in late February 1994. Paul was a first year Psychiatry Registrar, who had chosen to do his training at Dandenong. My first impression of Paul was that he was a cross between Wesley Crusher and Doogie Howser – both ‘child’ geniuses on TV shows running at that time! Paul looked about 12 years old and was already thinking well outside the box, even as a junior registrar. He exuded energy, vitality and was clearly a ‘wizz kid’ who spoke fast, thought faster and was keen for intellectual challenges. He had aced all of his medical school subjects and graduated very high in his class. I was delighted that he had chosen
to specialise in Psychiatry which back in 1994 was not a popular specialisation choice. I ran tutorials with the first year Registrars in
1994, and within a few weeks, I remember extolling the virtues of doing research with Paul and he published an article early in his
training. Paul was hooked and embarked on a meteoric career, becoming a Professor of Psychiatry before he turned 40.
We established the Dandenong Psychiatry Research Centre and had 17 research staff by 2002. We were housed in a portable classroom on the grounds of Dandenong Hospital and conducted several major clinical trials, got NHMRC grants, wrote papers, hosted conferences and set up the first home-based early psychosis service. The three of us became great friends and we shared a lot of fun times. Along the way, Dr Tim Rolfe, Dr Dennis Handrinos, as well as numerous students and research assistants came and went – all of us feeling enriched by the various projects and experiences we shared.
In 2002, Dr Steve Ellen, Alfred psychiatrist, phoned me to tell me that the Alfred Hospital Chair of Psychiatry was vacant and that I should apply. As always, I immediately discussed this with Paul and Anthony and both were very positive that I should apply and that all of us should move to the Alfred if I was successful. I donned my best navy blue suit and after a long, gruelling session with an 11-person interview panel, I was appointed to the Alfred Chair with positions for Paul and Anthony plus 12 research staff that decided to transfer to the Alfred. We were welcomed with open arms and the research-rich environment of the Alfred assisted us to take our research further than we had dreamed possible. Paul rapidly expanded his brain stimulation research and we developed other areas by obtaining more funding and grants. Now in 2014, we have over 180 staff and students and in 2012 we moved to our beautiful premises at 607 St Kilda Road. Her Excellency, Ms Quentin Bryce, Former Governor General of Australia became the Centre’s patron in 2009 and she formally launched our new premises on October 1, 2013.
The three of us have developed a great working rhythm over the past 20 years. I am the ‘big picture’, emotional, political, action-orientated, sociable one. Paul is the very clever, biotech savvy, lateral thinking and slightly more serious one. Anthony is the ‘attention to details’, practical, careful, polite one. We are the three musketeers, and our credo is definitely ‘all for one and one for all’. I look forward to at least another 20 years working with the best colleagues and friends anyone could ever wish for.