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December 2001 (Updated September 2003)

You should consider applying for a Churchill Fellowship

By Gail Mackenzie,
1992 Churchill Fellow

Portrait of Gail Mackenzie.

Adventure of a lifetime

"You should consider applying for a Churchill Fellowship". Those few words were to become the catalyst for the adventure of a lifetime and the opportunity to make a difference.

Another nurse, a colleague and Churchill Fellow,whose project had involved studying Continence Services for the aged and people with disabilities was aware of my work involving the delivery of services to people from non English speaking backgrounds.

For many years I was of the belief that nurses needed to explore cultural practices if they were to provide culturally appropriate care to people from other backgrounds whose first language was not English. This included exploring and seeking information on health care practices of our indigenous population and the right to self determination.

As time progressed it became even more apparent that we all, regardless of our origins, have a belief system of what we need to do to be well, and we alter our behaviours accordingly during periods of illness. For nursing care to be healing, relevant and meaningful, people needed to be involved as participants in the caregiving, if they were to return to a state of wellbeing.

In 1992 I was awarded a Churchill Fellowship (travel can occur in the same or following year). I set off on a remarkable journey in 1993 for a period of 9 weeks. My Fellowship involved studying Transcultural Nursing (USA) and its application for the delivery of cultural sensitive and competent care to people in the community, service delivery in aged care (dementia culturally specific - Israel) and to attend the International Council of Nursing Congress in Madrid (Spain), a Congress attended by nurses from 107 different countries.

The bedlam and excitement at Heathrow Airport (UK) as I joined a flight for Madrid with literally thousands of nurses doing the same thing will always remain as one of the most wonderful memories of a life changing opportunity given to me as an Australian to go and talk, discuss and share ideas with colleagues from around the world. The Congress in Spain was particularly exciting because an abstract I had forwarded was accepted and I was giving my first Conference Paper ever.

For someone who had not presented before, while rather daunting, the camaraderie and sharing more than made up for the initial terror I felt standing in front of an unknown audience.

In no time I found shared views and people who were interested in my work. Nine years later professional relationships and information sharing continues with people who I met on my Fellowship.

On my return to Australia I have presented papers on Transcultural Nursing practices and how they apply to nursing in Australia. Additionally I have been able to advocate for improved services for carers and families and have received invitations to Conferences and workshops on aged care both in Australia and overseas. I believe I have been able to make a difference.

So how does one apply for a Churchill Fellowship? What is the criteria necessary to apply?

How did Churchill Fellowships come about? What sort of people are selected as Churchill Fellows?

In 1965 when Winston Churchill died a Trust Fund was set up in Australia to honour the memory of Winston Churchill on the occasion of his death.

Churchill's maxim was "with opportunity comes responsibility".

By way of public donations in Australia some four million pounds were raised to assist Australians to travel overseas to study, projects which would ultimately benefit Australia and enhance the quality of life for all Australians.

Today there are seven categories and Fellowships are as diverse as studying remote satellite sensoring in the agricultural industry to the "sonrise method" for managing autism in children. Interspersed with musicians, doctors, farmers, indigenous workers, people in private enterprise, opera singers, teachers,and community workers are other Australians with great ideas who want to make a difference.

Churchill Fellows apart from wanting to change the status quo or improve on existing services or standards are invariably people who are passionate about their subject, are well researched in what they want to achieve and most of all in Aussie terms "want to have a go". Project applications are based on merit not academic qualifications. You need to be between the age of 18 to 65 and will receive financial sponsorship ro travel overseas if successful. Most Fellowships are of six weeks duration. Applications close on the last day of February. If you are successful in your application you will be notified around August and can travel in the same year you are selected or the following year.

Having had the benefits of a Churchill Fellowship I can only encourage you to apply, if you have a great idea and want to make a difference.

You need to explore the Churchill Trust website for all relevant information at and the NSW Churchill Fellows website, which can be found at

With warm wishes to future Fellows,
Gail Mackenzie (1993 Churchill Fellow).

Editor's note

Gail MacKenzie is the immediate past president of the NSW Churchill Fellows Association. She is also one of many Churchill Fellows striving for excellence, who have been awarded study tours in the area of disability, health and community services.

The Trust's website now has a list of all Churchill Fellows and the topic of their Fellowship, which is a useful resource if you are thinking of applying. As Gail suggests, a great way to find out more about the Fellowship story, is to seek out someone you know who has been a Fellowship recipient, or to contact someone who has undertaken a Fellowship in a similar area of interest to yours. Past and present Fellows are the best person to help you in getting the application right, understanding the selection process and supporting you generally.

Associate Professor John Yeo (Spinal Cord Injury) is another Churchill Fellow whose story is on the web, as well as Wendy Abbott (Rural Health), and Dr Peter Spitzer (Clown Doctors).

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