Chris Blyth – Calm in a Crisis

Posted August 11, 2020 in Interviews & Spotlights, Wyvern-Corner-Office By Community Relations

Associate Professor Christopher Blyth (87-91), is a busy man! He is a Paediatric Infectious Diseases Specialist and NHMRC Emerging Leadership Fellow. He is co-director of the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases and Associate Professor of Paediatrics.

Based at Perth Children’s Hospital, Telethon Kids Institute and University of Western Australia, his focus is treating children with complicated infections and prevention infection through vaccination. As a current parent, he was one of the College’s ‘go to’ experts when we needed advice during the COVID-19 crisis.

What memories do you have from your time at Wesley?

My memories are of busy times, from the classroom to the sporting field and other co-curricular activities including music and debating.

With so many opportunities, I don’t remember a lot of down-time during my years at Wesley. I have especially fond memories of camps, particularly outdoor education camps, Inter-House competitions and being part of the crowd at PSA events.

Your son Ollie is currently at Wesley. What’s the same? What’s changed?

Wesley is a very different school now compared to 30 years ago. The school has changed but so has education. I believe Wesley is more supportive of boys that don’t fit the standard mold and are more committed to developing well-rounded young men rather than just those who will achieve academically, in business or on the sporting field. I think part of this change is the introduction of programs such as Katitjin and the Moorditj Mob, both bringing a wonderful richness to the lives of students and the community.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learnt from your parents?

I learnt the importance of perseverance, determination, hard work and being thankful for the gifts you have been given. I learnt that if you want something, you need to focus, commit and work with others who have shared goals. These lessons have shaped the way I approach both my work as well as my life more generally.

What did you do after leaving Wesley?

I left Wesley in 1991 and studied medicine at The University of Western Australia. After graduating in 1997, I worked for a few years as a junior doctor and spent six months travelling with my wife before settling in my chosen specialty, paediatrics. I undertook specialist training at Princess Margaret Hospital before moving to Sydney for a further five years of training, completing specialist training in paediatrics, infectious diseases and clinical microbiology.

I returned to Perth in 2010 with a young family to take up a position back at PMH and UWA, leading the Paediatric Infectious Diseases Service and to continue my research. My research has and continues to focus on ways to prevent paediatric infections, particularly acute respiratory infection, influenza and pneumonia. Much of my research is in the field of immunisation, looking at better ways to use existing vaccine, using science to inform the development of new vaccines and schedules and using research to inform public policy.

What qualities do you think a person needs to succeed?

In addition to perseverance and hard work, I believe honesty, a willingness to acknowledge knowledge gaps and an ability to bring people together are all critical to success. In medicine and science, team success is as important, if not more important, than individual success so an ability to work with people from varied backgrounds, with different and sometimes competing interests, is required. Diplomacy, humility and the ability to laugh at oneself are also central to success.

Medical research and science are at the forefront of the world’s focus right now. What advice do you have for a young person considering a career in research?

I chose to study medicine because I was fascinated by the way things work, particularly biological systems. My first steps into research were driven by a desire to learn more, to find answers to questions that occurred at the bedside and use research to inform the way I manage patients and their families.

More recently, I have used research to evaluate and inform changes to public policy, particularly immunisation policy. My advice to those considering a career in research is to question why and not blindly accept things as they appear. An inquisitive mind is the first step to great discoveries. Research is at times hard–there are plenty of hurdles and knockbacks given the competitive funding environment that exists. Focussing on the end goal, which for me is changing the lives of children and their families, is motivation to push through these hurdles.

What have you learnt about yourself and others during the Covid-19 crisis?

This crisis has reminded me of the importance of connection, the ability to be part of a group or a broader community. Although we have seen tremendous steps forward in the use of technology, it has reminded me of how wonderful it is to have a proper conversation with someone, to share a coffee, a drink and a laugh with colleagues and neighbours. It has reminded me of the fragility of human life, how global events in faraway places can shape our everyday lives and how lucky we are to be living in Western Australia. It has reminded me that science, truth and evidence are important and must inform our approach in crises. It has taught me the importance of clear communication from scientific and political leaders, particularly in a sea of uncertainty.

What are you most looking forward to when life returns to normal?

I am looking forward to getting together with work colleagues, neighbours, family and my broader community. When we can do this all the time, we sometimes under appreciate how lucky we are– this time has reminded me to take every opportunity to connect with others.


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