Access to education: The most powerful gift of all
Associate Professor Richard Millard overcame his own childhood challenges to have a rich life and a deeply fulfilling career. By his own account, the free education of his youth was the catalyst. It’s his hope that the recently announced Millard Scholarship will help young medical students chart a similar course.
Associate Professor Richard Millard has made a remarkable seven-figure gift in his Will to UNSW, establishing the Millard Scholarship program to provide medical scholarships to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Here he talks about his humble childhood, his early work in video urodynamics, the inestimable value of free education and the fundamental drive to ‘give back’.
Q: Tell us about growing up in England and your journey to medical school.
I was lucky enough to get into Wolverhampton Grammar School, which was founded in 1512 by Sir Stephen Jenyns, a wool merchant, who had become the Lord Mayor of London at the time of King Henry VIII’s coronation. Three years after the coronation, Sir Jenyns opened the Wolverhampton School for the free education of boys. By the time I got there it had been going for 444 years. That was an important start for me, and I have valued the principle of free education ever since.
When I was 13, my mother passed away, and that year I flunked out at school which was pretty upsetting. I repeated the year and went into the science stream which was great as we had fantastic teachers there. Sadly, I had another misfortune as my father died when I was 16 and I flunked again. I got a letter from our landlady saying, "You’d better clear out as you can’t pay the rent". So, I went to live with an ancient aunt. I passed all my A Levels and was accepted on a scholarship to Westminster Medical School. Job done – with free education!
Q: Why did you choose to pursue a career in medicine?
I think I was motivated by Dr David Fitzgerald who was my GP and who did a very good job looking after my mum. He kept her alive during her pregnancy with me and continued to look after the family thereafter. I was impressed with what he did, and I thought, "He’s doing a very good job and I want to help people that way".
Q: What brought you to Australia and what was your career path?
I was a Senior Registrar with a Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. I came out to Australia in 1978 on a one-year contract to set up a Video Urodynamics Lab at UNSW Sydney, in association with Prince Henry Hospital. This was the first unit in this country.
In order to stay in Australia, I was required to get a Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, firstly in general surgery and secondly in urology. Only five others had a double fellowship at that time. Eventually I was offered a permanent position as a Consultant Urologist at Prince Henry and Prince of Wales hospitals.
I then went on to start a program to employ and train a number of nurse continence advisors to improve the treatment and management of incontinence in Australia, and helped to set up the Continence Foundation of Australia. We worked extensively with patients with bladder control problems, of whom there are millions, as well as those with diseases of the nervous system and those who had spinal cord injuries. Going back in time, any soldier who got a spinal cord injury on the battlefield died within three years from renal failure, as the bladder dysfunction damaged the kidneys. Now we use video urodynamics to show us the problems and how to treat people. Twenty years later, those people have a normal life expectancy.
Q: What first motivated you to leave a gift to UNSW Sydney in your Will?
I came from a relatively poor family. There was no spare money and I was very grateful for free education. I always felt a debt of gratitude that I had been able to go to medical school and get the education that I would never have been able to if I had relied upon the wealth of my parents.
My desire to give back to society has been present all through my practice and my life. It was something that was drummed into me as a teenager and I just carried it on. That’s what I’m hoping that Millard scholars will do: carry on the idea that, if you get something out of the goodness of somebody else’s heart that enables you to do something that you would not have been able to do otherwise, you have a debt to society to pay it back.
Richard's gift will be used to support students pursuing studies at UNSW Medicine and in need of financial assistance. His wish is for all Millard scholars to complete medical school debt-free.