New Ken Behrens get to know their city

One university professor is doing her bit to ensure first-year Doctor of Medicine and Surgery (MChD) students are exploring all that Canberra has to offer. 

Professor Christine Phillips, who teaches Social Foundations of Medicine, created the Prestigious Ken Behrens Award to encourage students to embrace extra-curricular opportunities in Canberra. 

Originating from a captioning error of an ACT COVID-19 press conferenceKen Behrens rather than Canberrans – the term has since been acknowledged by ACT Health and sprung its own line of merchandise. 

Theresia Klarissa and Tom Harrysson outside the Innovations Theatre at ANU.

Theresia Klarissa and Tom Harrysson were crowned the Prestigious Ken Behren Award winners for 2024. Photo: Kyle Mackey-Laws/ANU

Professor Phillips, Associate Dean (Health Social Science) at the College of Health and Medicine, wanted to pay tribute to the Canberra legend, sending students on a treasure hunt around Canberra, with the winning pair collecting $100 each, and second place $50. 

Professor Phillips said Canberra can be a difficult place to appreciate without a bit of help. 

“One thing that struck me over the years is often students, especially students who come from elsewhere, don't really get much time to appreciate Canberra, and Canberra isn't a city that lays itself open to you,” she said. 

“It requires a bit of exploring. 

“I know that from when I first came here from Darwin, at first I thought oh my God, what is this kind of place with no community, which is the exact opposite actually - there's an enormous community and vibe and engagement and excitement in Canberra, but it's not immediately apparent unless you actually go out and seek it. And then once you can see it, you can't unsee it, I think. 

“So that just struck me that in medicine you can just get so caught up with the work of medicine that you can - and particularly if you've come to a new place - you might not get a real sense of the community that you're actually living in.” 

Theresia Klarissa and Tom Harrysson visiting sites around Canberra.

Theresia Klarissa and Tom Harrysson visiting sites around Canberra, including Mt Ainslie, the National Gallery of Australia and Parliament House.

Professor Phillips asked students – among other things - to go to a live sporting event, attend Question Time at Parliament House, visit a cultural event (such as Enlighten), go to a cultural institution (such as the National Gallery of Australia), and do a bushwalk. 

Tom Harrysson and Theresia Klarissa were awarded first prize. 

The duo completed their tasks in two days, attending Enlighten, a protest, bushwalking up Mt Ainslie, visiting the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) and heading to a local cricket match. They also went to Question Time. 

“I’m not the biggest art person myself but it was good to just go and get away from my studies,” Mr Harrysson said.  

“Then we also went to Parliament House for Question Time, and that was a very unique experience for both of us, we’d never been before.” 

On Question Time, Ms Klarissa added: “I didn’t know what I was expecting beforehand, we did see some other medical students there as well, and it was a lot. They discussed a lot. Everything came back to the cost of living.” 

Ms Klarissa moved to Canberra from Perth in 2021 to start her undergraduate studies.  

“I’ve always wanted to do medicine. I read up about the program, thought it was a great school so made the move over here” 

Mr Harrysson grew up in Sweden before moving to Canberra in 2015 to complete his high school studies. He remained in the Australian capital to pursue his undergraduate studies before starting the MChD course. 

“The MChD is really good,” he said. 

“The main highlight I thought I would enjoy but didn’t expect it to be this good is the cohort, that diversity of people.  

“Everyone is so friendly, and all the teachers as well, you get such a variety of perspectives of teachers that are also doctors, scientists from JCSMR, it’s been great.”


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