Mathew Peck: 15 years on

It’s now been 15 years since popular pharmacy student Mathew Peck died while travelling in South America. His legacy lives on in the form of the Mathew Peck Travelling Scholarship, established by his family in 2003.

Mathew Peck was a lover of travel, remembered for his commitment to global health, improving health outcomes for disadvantaged populations, and a passion for pharmacy.

Mathew was studying a Bachelor of Pharmacy at Monash University and had previously demonstrated interest in working in developing communities. His family established the Mathew Peck Travelling Grant in his honour, hoping to inspire future students to find their passion in pharmacy and international development. The grant of $4000 allows students to travel overseas, work in an international community and have a mentorship with a pharmacist.

The program is now in its 15th year and as part of the commemoration, two past recipients – one a contemporary and friend of Mathew’s, the other a recent recipient – have shared their experiences of the scholarship. They spoke of how their time in the program shaped their careers today and enabled them to use the skills they had picked up at Monash to improve the health of people in resource-poor communities.

Michael Nunan

When we spoke to Michael, he had just returned from working in the Ivory Coast and Tokelau. Michael has founded a company called MSupply which is working on improving healthcare supply chains by moving from paper records and inventory to the use of e-distribution methods using iPads.

It is a far cry from what he expected to be doing back when he was a student – in fact, while he was at VCP he wasn’t even sure he wanted to be a pharmacist. But following the death of his friend Mathew, he made a last-minute decision to apply for the Scholarship.

“I’d never considered a career in international development; I just wanted to transfer out of pharmacy,” said Michael.

After spending two months in Vanuatu, Michael found his entire perspective on pharmacy had changed. From working in the community to running a hospital pharmacy, Michael had a new appreciation for the breadth of career options in a degree he had once tried to transfer out of.

“Before the program, I was actually labelled worst trainee of the year by my placement supervisor. I came back and that following year, won the Victorian Pharmacy Student of the Year competition,” Michael said.

“The program changed my life; I went from uninterested to developing this whole new enthusiasm for a career. I completed a Graduate Diploma in Pharmacy Practice and, just this year, graduated with a PhD in healthcare supply chains.”

Michael adds that Mathew’s legacy lives on in every student who takes the opportunity to complete the scholarship program. An old friend of Mathew’s, Michael found the process to be emotional, raw but fulfilling.

“I often think of Matt, when I’m out in the field. I was in a tiny island country, stuck on a boat for 36 hours. That time, out there on the deck made me reflect. I owe him this whole new outlook on life; we all owe him for this opportunity we have created in his memory.” Michael comments.

“I’m proud to have been involved.”

Jake Bromley

Jake completed his bachelor degree in 2017 and is currently undertaking his internship at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. As a Mathew Peck Travelling Scholar, he spent six weeks in Timor Leste last summer, working with two former scholarship recipients, Michael Nunan and Alex Bongers (Bongers undertook his scholarship placement in 2010).

Jake spent his time with the Timor Leste government, working alongside Michael’s company, MSupply. Part of his project was to analyse the efficacy of Michael’s systems, particularly the impact of switching from paper to electronic inventory.

“I had this chance to really work with stakeholders and government officials. Part of my responsibility involved analysing the data since MSupply switched to the e-based system. MSupply is working to increase medical supply in resource-poor communities and it was cool to be a part of that process,” Jake said.

Jake was seeking an experience that was different from the norm. Having previously been in community and hospital settings in Australia, he wanted a taste of how health systems in other counties worked.

“I wanted to see what else was on offer and experience another culture. You work a lot at home and see the impact here but not overseas. I wanted to know how I could make a meaningful impact somewhere else.”

“I learnt to engage with people from different cultural backgrounds and confront the challenges the community faces. Seeing how people like Alex approached situations made me reflect on my learnings and how they had to change to meet the situation.”

We asked Jake what his highlights of the experience were and he had a few to add.

“The type of people you meet, the many volunteering options and meeting so many professionals from a range of fields were all key highlights. I made some strong friendships in a relatively short period of time,” Jake added.

“The impact you can make over there is huge. I’ll be keeping my eye out for more opportunities like these in the future. I think down the track, I’d like to be working in similar programs overseas.”

Jake is finishing up his one-year internship with Royal Melbourne Hospital and is planning his next career move for the future. His key advice for students?

“Take every opportunity you can get. Everyone studying pharmacy should do it. The people you meet will help you along the way and if you don’t do it, you won’t ever get this type of chance again.”

“I don’t regret a single decision and I hope that the program continues to change students’ lives like it changed mine.”