Focused on celebrating individuals 40 years old and under, the Emily Hensley Award gives past students of Melbourne Girls Grammar the opportunity to share what they’ve been doing since leaving school and inspire our current students and community, to pursue their passions.
After receiving a great deal of interest and nominations this year, we are delighted to announce that Dr Melissa Yang has been selected as the 2021 Emily Hensley Award recipient. Melissa received her award at Speech Night, on 1 December, please join us in congratulating her.
Dr Melissa Yang (2000)
2021 Emily Hensley Award Recipient
Dr Melissa Yang (Class of 2000) has dedicated her study, career and life to putting others before herself. Through this award, we want to recognise significant contributions Melissa has made to the community, to her profession and those around her.
According to her friend Heidi Holmes (Peat, 2000), Melissa is the ultimate silent warrior, doing the quiet work behind the scenes, the work that goes unrewarded, unrecognised but is ultimately the most important being done. Heidi says her friend has never sought attention, gratitude or extra reward for the voluntary work and caring she’s done over the years. She believes Melissa’s work and life really reflect the MGGS School values of self-discipline, courage, integrity and compassion.
At school, Melissa was a dedicated student, with a talent for STEM. She knew she wanted to work with people and decided to pursue a career in Medicine, a path she knew was not going to be easy, but she was determined. After missing out on a place at medical school after Year 12, unwavering in her commitment to her future career, Melissa studied Biomedical Science, providing her with an alternative pathway into medicine. This required her to uproot her life, move to Adelaide – away from her family and friends – and dedicate herself to becoming a doctor. After 14 years of study and training, Melissa passed her physicians exam in 2014. The self-discipline and sacrifice required to see this through is a testament to Melissa’s worth ethic and dedication. Melissa remembers the hard work she had to put in during that time: “It required you to always push harder, you always needed to find something else inside you to keep going. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But when I passed that physicians exam, it was also one of the proudest days of my life.” Melissa is now a qualified Respiratory and Sleep Physician at Western Health.
During her studies in Medicine, Melissa met her future husband, Dr Ian Davis. Not long after they got engaged, Ian was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND). In the years to come, Melissa and Ian worked together to establish what would eventually become a household name in Fight MND.
Melissa showed tremendous courage in not only dealing with the inevitable loss of her partner and father to their son Archie, but also working tirelessly to bring awareness and support for those individuals and their families having to endure and fight this terrible disease. While Ian focused on the research side of the foundation, Melissa worked in operations, focusing on how best to support the carers, those looking after loved ones diagnosed with MND. After 2 years, Melissa and her team had delivered more than $2m worth of equipment to help make life slightly easier for carers and their loved ones.
When interviewed by her friend Heidi, Melissa and her both reflected on their time at MGGS and the positive and safe environment it was for girls to become strong, independent and empowered women. When Melissa entered the world of medicine, she said she had no awareness that being a woman would in any way impact her career or disadvantage her in any way to her male counterparts. She reflected that this was probably because of the foundations and confidence that MGGS instilled her and her peers.
As Melissa explains, the hurdles for women in medicine carry through as you climb the ladder. “Women are constantly passed over for advancement or for specialist courses because it’s assumed that they’ll be taken out because of family and parental responsibilities.” For many junior doctors, the first years working in the health system can be a brutal experience. The hours are extremely long, under extreme pressure and there’s often a lack of concern for their wellbeing.
While Melissa had the courage, determination and strength to navigate these additional hurdles, she soon heard of other female colleagues that found these barriers, along with the lack of support, too much to handle, leaving them emotionally and physically drained. This led to some female colleagues dropping out, pausing their careers, or in some cases suicide. However, these events would not wash over Melissa. Instead, they were the driving catalyst for her and her two co-founders to establish Doc to Doc, a support network for female doctors.
Fast forward three years and the Doc to Doc Network has now graduated from a Facebook group to a dedicated website which supports female doctors all around Australia through resources, an online member directory and networking opportunities. From a founding team of three this has grown to a community of over 10,000 women doctors, which represents about 25% of all registered female doctors in Australia.
It’s evident that compassion is omnipresent in Melissa’s life – whether it is in her role as a doctor, colleague, wife or mother. Her friends and family say Melissa is always about action, not just words. She shows empathy and understanding, and takes action to help others wherever she can.
It was her personal experience, and a push from her sister, that compelled her to apply to be an inaugural member of the Victorian State Government’s Voluntary Assisted Dying board, led by former Supreme Court Justice Betty King QC. Melissa was successful and officially joined the board in July 2018.
Prior to experiencing her husband’s illness and death, Melissa had always been a believer in assisted dying. But truly living the experience with Ian’s diagnosis of MND, she saw how having the choice when there was no other choice to be had, could improve the mental state of a patient. While voluntary assisted dying wasn’t legalised in time for Ian, he did have some options available through the withdrawal of treatment, giving him the ability to die with dignity with his friends and family by his side.
Melissa remembers fondly her years at MGGS, both at Morris Hall and Merton Hall. She got involved in sports, debating, drama and more. She was in the rowing team in her senior years and says winning the Head of the Schoolgirls Regatta is one of her best memories of school. Melissa also got a taste for leadership, being Mungo House Captain in Middle School and Senior School.
Her two younger sisters also attended the School and Melissa said they all enjoyed being there together. She adds “MGGS gave us so many fantastic opportunities and really provided us with another family and sense of community. I am still very close to many of my school friends and their families.”
Melissa believes her education at MGGS has guided her life in many ways. She explains, “I believe it is actually from MGGS that I developed the values of getting involved in causes I am passionate about. My education provided me with confidence and, as I got older, a voice.”
What an amazing role model Melissa is for our Grammarians and Old Grammarians. Her strength, dedication and resilience in the face of adversity is truly admirable. She is exactly what we would describe as an empowered woman of action and will indubitably be an inspiration for other girls and women to forge their own path and fight for what they believe in.