Emeritus Professor Ann Sefton AO (MBBS (Hons) ’60 PhD ’66 DSc ’90)

Image of Ann Sefton

Ann Sefton's time at University of Sydney marked the beginning of her life-long determination to better the provision of medical education.

As a student, Sefton was elected the first female President of the Medical Society and was involved in the establishment of the Australian Medical Students Association. She served as both the Vice-President of the SRC and its Health Officer. After graduating, she undertook her residency first at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, and then at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children. “It was ... really scary because you carried a lot of responsibility and you often did it when you were dog tired," she says. "Sometimes I wouldn’t get to bed for 72 hours. It was just brutal. Being female, we had to work many more weekends than the men because we weren’t eligible for the football team.”

As a postgraduate student, Sefton was active with the committee that established the first Child Care Centre on campus, and was later involved in developing a Vacation Care Scheme for the children of staff and students. She was awarded her PhD in Physiology in 1966, when she had just had the first of her two children.

During her PhD work, Sefton made the first observations of the way in which information is regulated by an interplay of excitatory and inhibitory mechanisms when passing from the eye to the cerebral cortex. Another discovery she made was that during the development of the mammalian visual system, when it would be assumed that neuronal numbers would be increasing consistently, significant numbers of cells are actually lost. More recently, with one of her PhD students, Sefton has made further unexpected observations in mammals with colour vision, providing evidence that the pathways that transmit red-green information are segregated from blue pathways.

Beyond scientific research, Sefton has made extensive contributions to medical education at the University of Sydney, receiving one of the University’s inaugural awards for Teaching Excellence in 1990 and an Australian Award for University Teaching in 1998. Appointed Associate Dean (Curriculum Development) in 1994, Sefton saw the development of the Faculty’s new Graduate Medical Program.

Sefton joined the Faculty of Dentistry in 1999, serving as Associate Dean to assist in the development of a graduate entry dental program. The aim of developing the new medical (and later dental) program was to move from didactic teaching, involving memorisation and role learning, to stimulating scientific thinking, clinical reasoning, critical appraisal and problem-solving.

Throughout her career, Ann has been a member of numerous committees at both the Faculty and University level, and has been invited to membership of review committees both in education and research nationally and internationally. She was involved in the establishment of the University of Sydney Medical Graduates’ Association, and in 2001 was made an Officer of the Order of Australia. That year, Sefton was also elected to the University of Sydney Senate, and again in 2005, becoming Pro-Chancellor in 2003 and Deputy-Chancellor for the term 2004 to 2007.

Amended profile sourced from Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.