Medicine graduate Patrick Walker a passionate advocate for child health

Nigerian Oximetry team
Dr Patrick Walker with the Nigerian oximetry team

Getting your research published, especially in a prominent journal, is never an easy feat. So when medicine graduate Patrick Walker found out his research had been accepted for publication in the Fetal and Neonatal edition of Archives of Disease in Childhood, the achievement was an incredible reward for 12-months of hard work.

Driven by his passion to improve healthcare for children and infants in low-resource settings, Patrick undertook his Bachelor of Medical Science (Honours) in 2017 with the Department of Paediatrics at Monash University and the Centre for International Child Health at The University of Melbourne. Under the supervision of Dr Kenneth Tan (Monash University) and Dr Hamish Graham (The University of Melbourne), Patrick’s research project evaluated the effectiveness of intermittent pulse oximetry in guiding oxygen therapy in neonates in a low-resource setting.

The study, which took place in three hospitals in Southwest Nigeria, analysed all preterm or low-birth weight neonates and all term neonates who required oxygen therapy. The study used concealed continuous SpO2 monitoring, which estimates the of the amount of oxygen in the blood, to gather accurate information about neonates’ blood oxygen levels in real time, and used it to validate intermittent monitoring which was the standard care in the study hospitals – as it is in many hospitals across low-and middle-income countries.

Patrick and his colleagues found that in preterm and low-birth weight neonates, intermittent monitoring was used effectively to prevent and treat hypoxia (insufficient oxygen), but was not able to effectively limit oxygen administration to prevent hyperoxia (excessive oxygen). This meant that these neonates were at risk of potential harm from retinopathy of prematurity, an eye disease that can occur in premature babies, and bronchopulmonary dysplasia, a chronic lung disease affecting newborns.

Patrick says that having his research published in such a prominent journal will allow other clinicians around the world to use the results in their practice.

“The findings can be used to help other clinicians looking after neonates in resource-constrained hospitals, and may help to guide future oxygen practices in these hospitals to improve oxygen saturation targeting in neonates.”

He also says the support of his supervisors in guiding him through the research process was invaluable.

“They provided an enormous amount of assistance and expertise when it really mattered, and without them the project would never have got off the ground and this paper certainly wouldn’t have been published.

Since completing his research year in 2017 and graduating last year from his medical degree, both with first class honours, Patrick is currently in his intern year at The Royal Melbourne Hospital. He has also kept up a small amount of research with the Centre for International Child Health, and was recently accepted for a Junior Resident Medical Officer (JRMO) position next year with The Royal Children’s Hospital to undertake paediatric physician training with The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP).

Being passionate about child health, Patrick hopes to pursue a career in paediatrics and work clinically in both high- and low-resource contexts in Australia and around the world whilst also building on the research experience he has gained. His interests lie in the broader issues that surround child health, and at some point, he sees himself working in public health or policy and hopes he can effect change on a broad scale.

“There are huge levers that dramatically affect kids all around Australia and all around the world, and being able to influence how they’re pulled is extremely exciting to me.”