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Future Focus: Samuel Sebastian

Final year student at the University of Newcastle, Samuel Sebastian, secured a hybrid elective gaining experience through CIFAL, the United Nation’s Institute for Training and Research, in Newcastle, Australia and Madrid, Spain.

CIFAL is responsible for providing education on the United Nation’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and during his elective, Samuel was able to focus on research, education and developing policy, as well as implementing real measures in society to work towards these SDGs.

As I near the end of my medical degree, I’ve realised the importance of public health systems, alongside clinical medicine, in ensuring a healthy population and was fortunate to have gained experience with CIFAL, the United Nation’s Institute for Training and Research. There are 25 CIFAL sites internationally, which all aim to promote the United Nation’s work on the SDGs. Thanks to BOQ Specialist’s Future Focus grant, I was able to work locally at CIFAL Newcastle, as well as travel internationally to CIFAL Madrid for the final elective of my degree.

CIFAL Newcastle

The only CIFAL located in Australia is based at the University of Newcastle. In addition to their work on training and research, CIFAL Newcastle has developed a range of educational videos created by renowned experts on topics related to the SDGs. I was fortunate to work with notable experts on behalf of CIFAL Newcastle to create micro-learning videos to be published online. These videos ranged from topics on anxiety disorders to gender-based violence, and aimed to improve education of the SDGs, particularly amongst university students. Whilst the 2030 SDGs are significant for our global health, awareness of the role of the United Nations is limited. Particularly in medicine, there is a large focus on individual health and disease, but this elective highlighted the important role of organisations working outside of the hospital in contributing to improving global health. As part of my elective, I also developed an educational micro-learning video on Mental Illness in Medical Students, which has been published online and on the CIFAL Newcastle website. This was a fulfilling experience, particularly given that awareness and education of the SDGs is not included in the current university medical curriculum.

CIFAL Madrid

I was also fortunate to travel to Spain to learn about the fantastic work of CIFAL Madrid. CIFAL Madrid Royal Automobile Club of Spain (RACE) is primarily focused on promoting road safety, whether it be motor vehicle racing, driving whilst pregnant, as well as how some medications can interfere with driver safety. CIFAL Madrid RACE is located at the Circuito de Madrid Jarama, a motor racetrack located around 30 minutes outside of Madrid. It is a fitting location for the work of CIFAL Madrid, who target their advocacy around racing and road safety. During my elective in Spain, I was able to experience their car crash and racing simulations which are used to educate visitors on the importance of seat belts and speed limits. Whilst the elective was engaging, it showed me the stark reality of the work needed to improve road safety. Improving road safety is a challenge that requires collaboration between the government and organisations, as well as education and public health messaging. Part of my elective included working with the Training Manager of CIFAL Madrid, and learning about the development of CIFAL’s new Diploma in Road Safety. This new Diploma will be completed by local government leaders across the world, helping improve road safety policy globally. During my time with CIFAL Madrid, I learnt how instrumental the collaboration between organisations is to making progress on the SDGs.

CIFAL Madrid RACE’s work is particularly relevant in Spain. Compared to other high-income countries, Spain continues to have issues with road safety, particularly amongst young drivers on the weekend, as well as cyclists and pedestrians. However, in 2022, the Spanish government developed a new national road safety strategy in collaboration with local organisations such as CIFAL. This new strategy has a goal of reducing deaths and serious injuries in half by 2030, in line with the UN 2030 SDGs. In fact, over the last 30 years, Spain has managed to reduce road deaths by 80%. Through working with the Executive Director of CIFAL Madrid, I was involved in their training and public health messaging, which has improved road safety. Particularly key is the role of public health messaging, much like our own road safety programs in Australia, with advertisements such as ‘RBT means you need a Plan B’. Although there are still fatalities from traffic accidents in Australia, especially among the younger population, considerable progress has been made towards achieving the SDG for road safety by cutting our road mortality rate in half since 2000 as a result of our country's rigorous traffic rules and public education campaigns. Road safety may not come to mind when considering health issues, but the public health programmes, regulations, and researchers I learned about at CIFAL Madrid are essential to our wellbeing and safety when driving.


By working with CIFAL Newcastle and Madrid, I have realised that public health spans many facets of our health, more than just clinical medicine. Whilst I am excited to graduate and become a doctor, this elective has taught me the importance of education and organisations such as CIFAL and the United Nations in advocating for our wellbeing. I hope that the courses I have developed with CIFAL will have a lasting impact on university students and colleagues, and will help make progress towards the 17 SDGs for 2030. This elective has helped me understand the need and importance of sustainable healthcare and will no doubt help me become a more holistic practitioner.

Developed exclusively for medical and dental students, each year the BOQ Specialist FutureFocus grants provide students with the opportunity to undertake an elective so that their commitment to helping others can be realised. Applications for our FutureFocus Grant open in May and close in August. 

You can also access funds to help undertake an overseas placement, with our Student Banking Package.


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      The information contained in this webpage is general in nature and has been provided in good faith, without taking into account your personal circumstances. While all reasonable care has been taken to ensure that the information is accurate and opinions fair and reasonable, no warranties in this regard are provided.